I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
Space is a world devoid of the things we need to live and thrive: air, gravity, hot showers, fresh produce, privacy, beer. Space exploration is in some ways an exploration of what it means to be human. How much can a person give up? How much weirdness can they take? What happens to you when you can’t walk for a year? have sex? smell flowers? What happens if you vomit in your helmet during a space walk? Is it possible for the human body to survive a bailout at 17,000 miles per hour?
To answer these questions, space agencies set up all manner of quizzical and startlingly bizarre space simulations. As Mary Roach discovers, it’s possible to preview space without ever leaving Earth. From the space shuttle training toilet to a crash test of NASA’s new space capsule (cadaver filling in for astronaut), Roach takes us on a surreally entertaining trip into the science of life in space and space on Earth.
Let me begin with a shout out to Mary Roach—Mary, I would be willing to pay to have an extended coffee or a meal with you. Your sense of humour and the things that you are curious about, both of those qualities match the same part in my brain extremely well. We would either be BFFs or we would annoy the crap out of each other. Speaking of crap, I worked at a zoo for 17 years—I can discuss sex, death, poop and vomit over a meal without missing a bite. If you could get anyone in the lunch room there to talk about something besides poop or sex, it was a minor miracle!
Okay, I’m done fan-girling now. Having read Roach’s book Gulp last year and enjoyed it, I moved on to PfM. I’m considering it to be research to prepare me to read Andy Weir’s book, The Martian when it is finally my turn at my public library. I must confess that I haven’t been tremendously interested in the space program, but Roach has convinced me. I now have a bunch of books from her bibliography on my reading list, but I have a hunch those authors will not have the same irreverent attitude as she does. Much as I loved Chris Hadfield’s memoir, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, it seemed he was a trifle too dignified to deal with some of the nitty-gritty issues that Roach tackles. If I didn’t know it before, I do now—space is not the place for me. And I also know why the astronauts on the ISS spend so much time fixing the toilet! It turns out that in most life processes, gravity really is your friend.
If you are a fan of Mary Roach’s writing, this book is a must-read. If you don’t care for her style, I would give it a miss unless you are a die-hard fan of the space program.