I have always been fascinated by space exploration, and it has always been my biggest dream to fly into space. That dream is equal parts unlikely and common, but it has held true for over twenty years. When my son was three, he told me he wanted to be an astronaut and gave me a sticker with a rocket ship on it, in case we needed a ticket to get on the ship. It is still stuck to my bedside lamp shade, and every day it reminds me not only of how sweet he is, but also how going into space is an adventure that excites the imagination.
Mary Roach has written an number of books about interesting topics that aren’t generally produced for the general reading public, including death (Stiff), sex (Bonk), and the afterlife (Spook). She seems to follow her intellectual curiousity into researching these subjects, and then writes accessible science-based books with a really wry sense of humour. Packing for Mars is written in the same format, and is enjoyable and compelling. It is one of the few non-fiction books I have ever read that make me want to go and read the source materials, particularly the oral histories given by astronauts.
When Roach was doing publicity for the book, much of the discussion revolved around the (admittedly interesting and funny) topic of going to the bathroom in space. I clearly remember her discussing “escapees” with Jon Stewart; imagine his delight in talking about turds floating around the cabin of a spaceship. Her appreciation for the absurdities of spaceflight is wonderful, but I am more impressed with the palpable sense of awe that she conveys when writing about the science of spaceflight and the magic of actually being in space. I also appreciate her admiration for the hard work and dedication of the astronauts, engineers, volunteers and others involved in launching people into space; Roach really focuses on the human elements of the whole process, including the nobility of the endeavour and how it is worth the enormous expense.
Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void is interesting, funny, and helps to remind me of why space exploration is such a wonderful and inspiring experiment, worth both risk and expense.