Popular-science writer Roach (Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, 2008, etc.) entertainingly addresses numerous questions about life in outer space.
The author is less interested in the thrills and agonies of space travel than “the stuff in between—the small comedies and everyday victories.” In lucid writing well-tuned to humor and absurdity, Roach tackles such topics as bowel movements in zero gravity. In fact, all the things that can and routinely do go wrong are vile—inhaling fecal dust that coats the mouth with E. coli, for instance—and few have taken the act of vomiting quite to the riotous heights as Roach. Plenty of astronauts succumbed to motion sickness in her presence, but it’s a problem often ignored by reports because motion sickness is seen as a weakness, and any perceived weakness could get an astronaut bumped from a mission. The author visits with astronauts to hear about what it is like to share a confined space with another person for many days on end—“irrational antagonisms” are mentioned, as are fist fights, another little something not mentioned in press briefings—and to look at the cross-cultural issues that arose when Russians, Canadians and Americans shared a space station. Roach is equally adept at demystifying thorny scientific material, such as the nature of gravity and its role in our lives—especially how the lack of it thins bones, atrophies muscles, does odd things with blood vessels and the heart and is particularly uncooperative when it comes to sex: “thrusting just pushes the object of one’s affections away.” There is much good fun with—and a respectful measure of awe at—the often crazy ingenuity brought to the mundane matters of surviving in a place not meant for humans.
A delightful, illuminating grab bag of space-flight curiosities.