In the introduction to Mary Roach’s new book, she observes how ideally suited and evolved the human is to life on Earth, a match between man and environment that has lasted millennia. In space, however, nothing works for us: no water, no air, no gravity, not to mention the very, very long distances. But that’s why preparing humans for space — as revealed in humorous, wondrous and oftentimes gross detail in Ms. Roach’s “Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void” — has become a rich and growing industry but less talked about when compared to the science of booster rockets.
This is not the first time the writer has sought out weird science. In her books “Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers” (2003) and “Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife” (2005), she took on death and the people who study it. With “Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex” (2008), she found sex researchers in Cairo and wrote more about sow insemination than most would want to know except farmers. And she has written all this popular science with a cocked eye, a sense for the absurd, and a smart sense of humor.