From poop jokes to warnings of bone loss, in Packing For Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void, Mary Roach does an amusing job of showing just how ridiculous it is to send living organisms into lifeless space. The shower never worked, the toilet barely works, and space food in the 60s was so awful, the astronauts wanted a food pill. Part of the problem was that the food engineers came from vetinary medicine, formulating monkey chow into astronaut chow. Some of the foods astronauts refused to eat them became commercial foodlike products, such as meal replacing shakes and granola bars.
The book runs through the history of life in space, from chimps and dogs in orbit, to the Space Shuttle. We get a glimpse of the Japanese and the Russians, but it’s mostly about NASA astronauts. Unlike the jokiness of Bonk, I found this one honestly funny. The stories range from gross to silly to scary to just plain fun. For example, when telling us about riding in zero gravity, she remarks that most of her notes from the plane are such technical phrases as “Yippee!”
After reading this book, I am impressed by the determination and attention to detail that gets human beings cleaned and watered and fed while floating around the Earth in pressurized metal canisters. I am not so sanguine about the prospect of sending humans on a two year voyage to Mars with the stress of a landing at the end. But I’ve got my own crazy ideas about that.