Space Oddities

Mary Roach - one of my favorite science writers - has a book coming out this August. It's sort of like "The Right Stuff." But it's more like the weird stuff. The funny stuff. The gross stuff. The unexpected stuff. It's called "Packing for Mars," and it's all about those things NASA doesn't delve into at press conferences: boozing in space, sex in space, peeing in space, etc. Mary - whom you might know from her book about cadavers (Stiff) or her book about life after death (Spook) or her book about bonking (Bonk) -- sent me an early copy for blurbage purposes. Here's the five most important space nuggets I gleaned: --The Japanese space program has an interesting way of screening candidates: Extreme origami. Potential astronauts have to make 1,000 paper cranes to see how they deal with pressure and monotony. --Among the historic trash left on the moon by the first human visitors: Four condom-like urine collection devices. Two were left by Neil Armstrong and two were left by Buzz Aldrin. By the way, two were large and two were small. "Who wore what is a matter of conjecture," says Roach. --Booze is officially banned in space. But some astronauts have managed to smuggle it on. According to Roach's sources, vodka is very useful when trying to get Russian astronauts to cooperate on projects. --Space makes you beautiful. It's known as the Space Beauty Treatment. "Without gravity, your hair has more body. Your breasts don't sag. More of your body fluid migrates to your head and plumps your crow's feet." --A flight surgeon once advised Apollo astroanuts to "self-stim" to prevent prostate infections. Unsurprisingly, today's NASA has no official policy on orbital masturbation. But a Russian cosmonaut Roach interviewed was willing to discuss the issue. "My friend asks me, 'How are you making sex in space?' I say, 'By hand!'"


  1. Hell yeah! I’m just finishing “Bonk” and was wondering when her next book was coming out.

  2. OK yeah but have two people had sex in space yet? I ask of course for the obvious scientific reason.

    Huh? Have they, huh? Huh?

        1. I remember reading an old (and in retrospect probably unsubstantiated) article in which Jan Davis, half of the first married couple to go up on the space shuttle in ’91, finally broke her silence and discussed the logistics of space sex. Of course now I can’t find anything so I’ll retract my earlier statement.

          However… I am of the opinion that if that couple DIDN’T attempt entry into the 200-mile-high club then they seriously neglected their patriotic duty to dreamers everywhere.

          1. I am of the opinion that if that couple DIDN’T attempt entry into the 200-mile-high club then they seriously neglected their patriotic duty to dreamers everywhere.

            Damn straight.

            If I’d been an astronaut on that mission, I’d have made sure they had whatever it took — time, privacy, velcro, bungee cords — a French maid outfit — to accomplish the mission.

            “Errr, negative, Houston, he’s unavailable at this point in time. He’s preparing for the re-entry maneuver.”

          2. French Maid outfit is serious business… that and the bungee cords, because it´s f***** funny!

    1. My guess is “Yes, but it wasn’t a lot of fun.”. Between trying to find a place and time where you weren’t on the monitors and there wasn’t anybody else around (the shuttle and the ISS aren’t very roomy), the cramped spaces, bumping into things, the plain physical headache of staying together in free-fall where every move wants to send you two flying apart, and the general cruddiness (they still haven’t invented a really good zero-G shower), it’s probably one of those things that turns out to be more fun in the imagination than in reality.

      Of course, the astronaut corps tend to be young, healthy, physically active, highly competitive (if you aren’t, you don’t fight your way through the selection process) and trained to attack problems and find solutions to them. And we’ve had mixed-gender crews for along time now (not that they’re neccesary, they just up the odds of compatible pairs greatly). I’d be highly suprised if there *weren’t* an informal research program going on.

  3. I’m curious what effect long term zero-g has on hair growth and vision, and how it correlates to self-stemming.

  4. As to two-person sex in space, Roach says she didn’t find any documented cases. There are lots of unsubstantiated rumors. Including one involving sex experiments in a zero G simulation. According to those rumors, it helps to have a third person to properly position the other two. AJ Jacobs

  5. I remember the position being referred to offhand somewhere as the ‘third dolphin’??? Heh.. Ben Bova wrote some good stuff on this whole topic.

  6. Critical to study during cold war, in case of nuclear annihilation, if last two surviving human beings are Soviet hero– male and female Cosmonaut in Earth orbit– repopulation of planet top priority to ensure ultimate Soviet victory.

  7. “Potential astronauts have to make 1,000 paper cranes” – They’re looking for factory workers! I nominate myself.

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