Saturday, August 16, 2014

What we're reading: Traveling in space

“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 inconstant. You take weeks to fix... To me, you are the best thing to happen to rocket science...To take an organism whose every feature has evolved to keep it alive and thriving in a world with oxygen, gravity and water, to suspend that organism in the wasteland of space for a month, or a year, is a preposterous, but captivating undertaking."

With this straightforward and yet extremely unsettling statement, science writer Mary Roach (whose previous works include Stiff, Spook and Bonk) lays out what she herself is undertaking in Packing For Mars: delineating exactly what it takes to allow humans to live in space. Not just exist, but live as comfortably and safely as is currently possible.

With exhaustive research, and findings delivered in at times excruciating detail, Roach provides an overview of the Japanese, Russian and American space programs from candidate testing and selection to touchdown, and ranging from the 1950s to the present. The result is an eye-opening, jaw-dropping examination of the history of humans hurling themselves into the void. Vacillating between cringe-worthy and laugh-out-loud funny, Packing for Mars is a thoughtful and thoroughly enjoyable lesson on the science of survival in the vacuum of space.

No comments: