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!'"