Packing for Mars – Bring a Strong Stomach

Are you looking for that perfect Christmas present for someone who likes a combination of history, technology, science and is not too squeamish?  If that case, can I recommend that you give him or her some space… err, history?

Mercury Capsule cross section courtesy of

Mercury Capsule cross section courtesy of

I love Roach’s style and ‘Packing For Mars: The Curious Science Of Life In The Void’ fills the vacuum left by other science writers.  In it, Roach discusses the most daunting aspects of manned space travel.  These are not escape velocity, not heat shielding or hostile aliens.  The most difficult aspects are things like what do you eat, how do you shit, carnal needs and keep morale up in an environment of bland food, fecal bags, abstinence.

Junior High Questions Answered by Government Researchers

While such challenges may evoke junior high’esque guffaws these are also real problems particularly as space travel increases in duration and may eventually lead to colonization if not more permanent moon or mars bases.  Roach focuses how astronauts are selected (including a discussion on whether the smaller and less hungry all female crew might make more sense then their larger male counterparts), the fragile nature of humans trying to attain earth’s escape velocity and can you jump out of a crashing space station.

Roach spends a considerable portion of the book dealing with basic human needs such as hygiene, eating, defecating and making babies.  Some key take away messages from this section includes space food tastes horrible and was designed by military veterinarians and had the taste and texture to prove it.  The space toilet was worth every penny as it not only beat shitting in a fecal bag but it also likely saved the astronauts from developing nasty e-coli infections from escaped post-digested-veterinarian chow.  Also, it is good to plan to periodically pee in space as the bladder’s fullness sensors generally don’t work in zero gravity.  Pee collects on the side of bladder due to surface cohesion as opposed sitting on the bladder floor creating the urge to void… ahh, in the void of space.

Sex, Babies and the Colonization of Space

Making babies in space and having babies has its challenges.  The first is how to do it in a gravity free environment with Newton and his pesky third law hanging around.  Assuming enough duct tape and foot straps can be found, the second problem is the developing fetus.  Evidence is scanty but what there is suggests that the baby would not make it to full term.  If the baby did make full term, the ambient radiation exposure may create serious problems outside of the womb.

Like Stiff: the curious lives of Human Cadavers, Roach has written a very approachable book.  Somewhat graphic in parts with lots of interesting notes and asides.

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