"Everything tastes like a PIG!"
Last time at the BSBC, we gathered around sweets and various holiday savories to discuss Mary’s Roach’s latest book Packing for Mars, a humorous and scientific look at the history of space travel and the lengths people will go to in preparation of a possible trip to Mars, the great red planet of dirt that looks sort of like the outskirts of Las Vegas.
When Jim Lovell looked into space and remarked on the beauty of it, he was probably referring to the crystallized urine that had just been ejected from the space shuttle. On a different occasion, however, he was the owner of a urine bag that had exploded in the shuttle, turning the capsule into a latrine. In fact, the bathroom situation in space is one of the trickier obstacles to overcome because of the lack of privacy (there was a curtain, but nothing could hide the clear bag full of shit that you then had to mush antibacterial gel through lest it explode in space), the smell, and the problem with “escapees”. The bathroom problem was such an issue that on shorter missions, the astronauts would just refuse to eat (which was made easier because the food was dehydrated and came in cube form).
A small note about the food: the cubes weren’t so popular with the astronauts, so the nutritionists at NASA pureed everything and put it into tubes to reduce zero-gravity induced messiness. However, when you eat pureed food, not only can you not see or smell it (which messes up how it may taste), but also your brain is confused that something that tastes like a hot dog has the consistency of baby food. Which is why the only food that astronauts liked in tube was applesauce (hence the “Gaz, Taster of Pork” reference picture from Invader Zim).
If you think you can get past the bathroom issues (really? exploding shit bags didn’t scare you off?), there’s also the smell issue since it is nigh impossible to bathe properly and wash your clothes with current technology. I know, we’ve all had that one college roommate, but at least you were allowed to leave the room or crack open a window. In space, no one can hear you scream, but in the capsule, everyone can smell your BO.
Honestly, for me, the book killed any dream I once had of going into space. I’ve heard more than one astronaut expound about the wonders of zero-gravity and the privilege of working with NASA, but Mary Roach really explores the nitty-gritty aspects of space preparation. Since our bodies have adjusted to live on Earth, removing gravity can do very bad things to you. In fact, most astronauts get motion sickness for the first week of space travel because the inner-ear is adjusting itself (and then when they land, there is more motion sickness as the inner ear readjusts). And there is also bone loss to worry about, because the pull of gravity on your bones helps your osteoblasts to keep your bones nice and strong. Otherwise, you lose bone density and that can cause you to break a bone more easily. If you can get past that (and the previously-mentioned grossness), Mission Control is the ultimate nosy parent/micromanaging boss. You are asked about things like your sweat and dandruff levels, and literally every minute of your day is scheduled except for two hours of “pre-sleep” time.
If you want all the glamor of space travel without actually being cool enough to go into space, you can always try an isolation chamber experiment. You will be privileged enough to be locked up in a room with complete strangers and get along. And deal with silly things like cockroaches, fistfights, and possibly horny/drunk cosmonauts. If that doesn’t do it for you. you can volunteer for three months as a bed-rest patient. Basically, you spend the entire day in a bed that leans back slightly at a 6 degree angle (so blood pools in the upper half of your body) and that’s it. It’s basically like a hospital (even with food and all the bedpans you can use) except without the pleasure of being able to get out of bed.
Are you still interested in space? Seriously? (By this point, NASA should exclude anyone who wants to be an astronaut from becoming one because obviously you’d have to be crazy, and I’m pretty sure sending crazy people into space is against their psych test. It’s Space Catch 22!)
If any of you do get into space, let me know how that desalinated urine is, and update me on the status of Project: Shitburgers and Mouse Stew while you’re at it.
Our next meeting is on January 22nd at 3pm on the Harvard Campus (same location as last time, in the Northwest Building). We will be bringing snacks again to compensate for the lack of having it in an actual coffee shop (but our new venue is totally nice, I promise). And, drumroll please, our next book is: The Calculus Diaries by Jennifer Ouellette, who also posts on the blog Cocktail Party Physics.
Psst, if you’ve already read our January book or you just want to go ahead and see what we’re reading in February, click here.