“What drew me to the topic of space exploration was not the heroics and adventure stories,” Roach writes in her introduction of Packing for Mars, “but the very human and sometimes absurd struggles behind them.” and adds at the end of her introduction, “Space doesn’t just encompass the sublime and the ridiculous. It erases the line between.”
I’ve read a lot of first-hand accounts of the space race for research for my science fiction novels (now available as e-books, Second Star, A Handful of Stars and Red Planet Run, never miss an opportunity for self-promotion, that’s me), and I can say unequivocally that Roach is dead on about the sublime and the ridiculous. I’ll never forget the story of Gus Grissom absolutely refusing to take a dump the entire three days he was on orbit because he. would. not. poop. into a plastic bag and then massage stuff into the result and store it for the groundside docs to examine when he got home. I didn’t blame him one bit.
The point is, though, that all the astronauts, Mercury, Apollo, Space Shuttle, would do anything and everything that was thrown at them no matter how idiotic just for the chance of getting into space. I don’t blame them for that, either.
Here in one book Roach has assembled many of the best human stories to come out of our space program, astronaut selection, motion sickness, the Three Dolphin Club, going to the bathroom, and in the last chapter, titled “Is Mars Worth It?” answers her own question with the red shift limit best defense of funding space exploration and colonization I’ve ever read:
The nobility of the human spirit grows harder for me to believe in. War, zealotry, greed, malls, narcissism. I see a backhanded nobility in excessive, impractical outlays of cash prompted by nothing loftier than a species joining hands and saying “I bet we can do this.” Yes, the money could be better spent on Earth. But would it? Since when has money saved by government red-lining been spent on education and cancer research? It is always squandered. Let’s squander some on Mars. Let’s go out and play.
*Roach does footnotes as well as Richard Holmes (The Age of Wonder and if you haven’t read it, you should). Sometimes I would turn the page, see a footnote, and read it first.
Some other great reads about the space program:
Chariots for Apollo: The Making of the Lunar Module by Charles Pelligrino and Joshua Stoff. One of the funniest, smartest books you’ll ever read about the Apollo program, and would someone for crissake please bring it back into print already? Or at least Kindle it. Sheesh.
Carrying the Fire by Michael Collins. The best of the astronaut autobiographies, until
Book Review Monday Chatter apollo program carrying the fire chariots for apollo charles r. pelligrino hubble telescope ISS joshua stoff mary roach mercury program michael collins mike mullane packing for mars riding rockets space exploration space shuttle
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