Book Review: Packing for Mars

Packing for Mars by Mary Roach ($15 @ Amazon) is a ton of fairly interesting trivia about the space program, space travel, and the challenges of trying to go to Mars. She talks about doing tests on Earth to figure out how bad body odor would be if someone didn’t bathe for an extended period (30 days!) and that after about 5 days the body stops producing skin oil because it’s oily enough. Stories about volunteers on bed rest for a month to monitor muscle atrophy and volunteers subsisting only on milk shakes during a test period. She chases down a few urban legends related to space, some very strange including one about trying to prevent Enos the monkey from orbital solo sex.

There’s at least a chapter devoted to sex in space, and another on bodily functions. The latter goes into almost painfully graphic detail about the challenges of weightlessness. For example, follow this link to see a picture of the fecal bag that has a finger slot to aid, ahem, disconnection. Imagine using this while seated in the equivalent of an airline seat and your neighbor looking out the window, and then you get to add in a package of disinfectant that you rub into the contents.

In the end you realize that space travel isn’t simple and isn’t glamorous at the human level. Even if we have the technical means to make the trip, getting people there in a way that keeps them physically and emotionally healthy is not going to be easy. Going to Mars is far different than going to the Moon. The moon trip might be grueling, but it’s only four days one day, far different than a 2 year trip to Mars.

It’s a fun read, but only if you’re interested in space and or trivia.