What happens when you vomit during a space walk?
The bestselling author of Stiff explores the irresistibly strange universe of space travel and life without gravity
Space is devoid of the stuff humans need to live: air, gravity, hot showers, fresh veg, privacy, beer. How much can a person give up? What happens when you can't walk for a year? Is sex any fun in zero gravity? What's it like being cooped up in a metal box with a few people for months at a time? As Mary Roach discovers, it's possible to explore space without ever leaving Earth. From the space shuttle training toilet to a 17,000 mile-per-hour crash test of NASA's space capsule (cadaver stepping in), she takes us on a surreally entertaining trip into the science of living in space.
Roach (Stiff) once again proves herself the ideal guide to a parallel universe. Despite all the high-tech science that has resulted in space shuttles and moonwalks, the most crippling hurdles of cosmic travel are our most primordial human qualities: eating, going to the bathroom, having sex and bathing, and not dying in reentry. Readers learn that throwing up in a space helmet could be life-threatening, that Japanese astronaut candidates must fold a thousand origami paper cranes to test perseverance and attention to detail, and that cadavers are gaining popularity over crash dummies when studying landings. Roach's humor and determined curiosity keep the journey lively, and her profiles of former astronauts are especially telling. However, larger questions about the "worth" or potential benefits of space travel remain ostensibly unasked, effectively rendering these wild and well-researched facts to the status of trivia. Previously, Roach engaged in topics everyone could relate to. Unlike having sex or being dead, though, space travel pertains only to a few, leaving the rest of us unsure what it all amounts to. Still, the chance to float in zero gravity, even if only vicariously, can be surprising in what it reveals about us.