Mary Roach is great. I love her.
As with Bonk and Stiff, Roach approaches a topic, this time space travel, with curiosity and humor. I'm sure it's no surprise that sending things and people into space is a lot of work, but I don't think I quite appreciated all of the details. There's a delicate balance of making sure things actually work in zero gravity, but also don't kill the astronauts. Surprise, it is not all that easy to keep people alive up in space. Roach opens with:
To the rocket scientist, you are a problem. You are the most irritating piece of machinery he or she will ever have to deal with. You and your fluctuating metabolism, your puny memory, your frame that comes in a million different configurations. You are unpredictable. You're inconsistent. You take weeks to fix.Ugh, humans. Space travel would be so easy without you but you insist on going up there. Pain the ass.
Roach goes into the history of sending people up into the void and all of the issues that have come with that, tackling issues such as toilets and hygiene (fact, people were stinky) and even gets to take a ride in the vomit comet, which sounds equal parts terrifying and super fun. She talks about space programs in the US, Russia, and Japan. Fun fact, Japan uses forensic origami as part of their astronaut training/interview process. "Deterioration [in origami crane folding, as they have to fold 1,000 cranes] in accuracy shows impatience under stress."
Overall this was super fun, as are all of her books, so not too much of a surprise. If you wanted to know way-too-much about bodily functions in space, this is most definitely a book to check out.
Title quote from location 2866
Roach, Mary. Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void. W.W. Norton & Company, 2011. Kindle