Saturday, May 19, 2012

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void –by Mary Roach

Nonfiction – Science
334 Pages
Footnotes/Endnotes: Yes
Illustrations: Yes – b/w photos at chapter beginnings
Suitable for eReaders: No

Mary Roach is one of Rainy Day's favorite writers. Why? She uses footnotes. You know, those notes that show up at the bottom of some pages rather than at the end of the chapter or book. Rainy Day loves footnotes and the writers who write them. She is not so fond of end notes and the writers who haven't enough respect for either Rainy Day or themselves to put their notes at the bottom of the page where they belong. But, Rainy Day rants.

Packing for Mars is a book filled with laugh-out-loud humor about living in zero G and other astronautical phenomena. Ms. Roach tells us all the things we've always wanted to know, but no one from NASA would ever talk about, and we were never in a position to ask. She was in the position to ask, and she did.

How are astronauts really chosen? (In Japan, one of the 'tests' is how fast they can fold origami cranes under stress.) How do they wash in zero G? (Or do they?) What do some of the astronauts say about their sojourns into Space? (Jim Lovell says spending two weeks in Gemini 7 was, "like spending two weeks in a latrine." Indeed, astronauts must have the right stuff.  And what is the 'real' reason women didn't go along for the ride earlier than they did, especially since women are smaller, eat less, and can take higher Gs than men? (Read the book for that one.)

Mary Roach loves weird science, or perhaps that should be science of the weird. She will tell you some of the strange quirks of nature she has found, including who might really make the best astronauts. There are people who are uniquely and biologically qualified for such a journey.

And it isn't all science. What about Muslim astronauts? They face a unique situation in space, with 90 minute days, and speeding over Mecca that a guideline was drafted allowing them to pray 5 times daily based on our 24 hour clock, and what to do instead of kneeling.

Packing for Mars is well researched, well written, and full of humor. If you ever dreamed of becoming an astronaut, read this first!

At the end, Ms. Roach thinks we should send people to Mars. Yes, it will cost more, but humans have one thing the robotic rovers do not – intuition. She also has suggestions on how to block solar radiation for such a long journey. Rainy Day, being the romantic she is, thinks the robots ought to go first, and build some domiciles in some of the martian  caves near where humans need to be, and then we ought to send folks up there. Rainy Day just wishes she was young enough to go, too.

Thank you, Mary Roach, for a great and educational read!

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