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'Packing for Mars,' Mary Roach 

Bodily functions. Weightlessness. Think about it.

click to enlarge Author Mary Roach
  • Author Mary Roach

What happens when two people try to have sex in outer space? As Mary Roach points out, outer space doesn’t have any hangy-downy — and when it comes to bedroom antics, gravity is a plus.

Roach likes to write about offbeat topics: Her previous titles include Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, and Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex. In her latest nonfiction effort, Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void, Roach journeys from the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency to the New Mexico Museum of Space History to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in order to enlighten readers about all the space flight particulars we never really wanted to know. And she does so in an absolutely fascinating way.

NASA’s policy on sex used to be “What happens in outer space, stays in outer space” — making the whole thing like a kind of extraterrestrial Las Vegas. When it comes to the oddities and uncomfortable moments that astronauts encounter, however, the raucously entertaining nuances that Roach uncovers in this book leave little to the imagination.

There is ingestion and then there is egestion. Both are important topics of study in space travel. The latter is even more important, because scientists at one point thought vomiting while in a space suit could kill you.

Where do astronauts go when bodily functions call? When in a space suit, use the space suit; when in the shuttle, make sure you seal the rim of the toilet just right. (Zero-gravity isn’t exactly your friend here, either.)

In Packing for Mars, Roach tells why Americans astronauts are likely to be ousted by the much-more adaptable Japanese. She explains why Russians and American females are not the best companions in space. Roach, in fact, covers everything from kittens to blow-up dolls.

Even with NASA planning to end the space shuttle program in 2011, Roach also encourages Americans to continue packing for the trip to Mars. According to her, it’s too important — and our astronauts have gone through too much — just to give up now.

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