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'Packing For Mars' And The Weightless Life

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'Packing For Mars' And The Weightless Life

Space

'Packing For Mars' And The Weightless Life

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TONY COX, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Tony Cox, in Washington.

NASA is still working on a fix for the International Space Station. The cooling system for half of the vessel failed over the weekend. The astronauts are safe, but they've shut off much of the gear in the space station to avoid overheating. NASA will likely call for a spacewalk to make repairs in the next several days.

Breakdowns and on-the-fly repairs are just part of the challenge of life in space, where everything can be a major project. You can get a play-by-play of NASA's five-month process to plant a flag on the moon, from how to make it fly attractively to how to insulate it from the 2,000-degree heat generated by the descent engine. That's in an excerpt from "Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void." Go to npr.org, and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And we are talking today with the author of that book, Mary Roach. What would you want to go into space? Or would you actually want to go into space, and why would you? If you work in the aerospace industry, tell us about your experience with human space travel. 800-989-8255. That's our telephone number. The email address is talk@npr.org.

Of all the engineering problems we need to solve before the first human sets foot on Mars, the worst turns out to be us. We're glitch-prone, inefficient, and our fuel is bulky. Our bones break down in zero gravity, we're hard to repair, and we leak. It would be so much simpler to remove us from the 520-day roundtrip mission to Mars, but where would the fun be in that?

For the last two years, author Mary Roach has been documenting, in her words, the slapstick, surreal world of engineers, biologists and psychologists who aspire to land a sane, healthy astronaut on Mars. She tells their story in her new book, "Packing for Mars." We'll be talking with her in just a moment.

And later in the hour, Essence magazine names its first white fashion director, and many African-Americans mourn the loss of another black publication. Mark Anthony Neal will join us.

But first, "Packing for Mars." As Mary Roach describes it, a trip to Mars would be long, tedious and cramped, with no privacy, lousy food and the ever-present risk of death.

We have a fascination with traveling to the stars, but we don't really know what it is like. Would you want to go? Why? And if you are one of the 500-or-so people who have been in space, or if you have worked in the aerospace industry, tell us your story. Our number, again, in Washington: 800-989-8255. The email address: talk@npr.org. And you can join the conversation at our website. Just go to npr.org and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

As we've been saying, Mary Roach, joining us now from our bureau in New York. Mary, nice to have you on TALK OF THE NATION.

Ms. MARY ROACH (Author, "Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void"): It's great to be here. Thank you.

COX: And I will say this: I found your book, "Packing for Mars," just one incredibly interesting, fascinating read. Thank you a lot for writing it. I learned a lot, because, you know, we've been following the space - space travel in America for decades and decades, and a lot that you write about, I don't think a lot of people have heard about before.

Ms. ROACH: Well, thank you. Yeah, I wanted to capture all those little things that sort of fall through the cracks. We hear a lot about the triumphs and the tragedies in space, and while those are both captivating and interesting, to me it was just the elaborate and bizarre preparation that goes into getting ready to go into space and living without gravity.

I think we all take gravity for granted. It affects everything that we use, every part of the human body. It's very strange.

COX: Well, let's talk about - you know, we've heard of these missions where they take scientific projects up into space, and they grow things and they tweak things and they play with things and they do all sorts of things.

But the human body itself is the most difficult thing to get into space and have it function properly, isn't it?

Ms. ROACH: Yeah. The human body - particularly with a long-term mission, you have a tremendous amount of bone loss. On a Mars mission, they've talked there's been an estimate of you'd lose one-third to half of your bone. I mean, that's similar to - if you went into a wheelchair. I mean, it's a serious consideration.

And on the lighter side of it, just the simple act of eating, crossing a room, going to the bathroom, these astronauts are, like, they're the most high-achieving people in the world, and yet you kind of have to send them back to preschool because they have to relearn everything.

COX: I've written a list of some of the things that you have written about in the book that I'd like you to respond to. I'm not going to give you the entire list all at once. I'll drop them off piecemeal, if we will. But let's start with this one, which I thought was really interesting and unusual, and that is the idea of being bored to death up there.

Ms. ROACH: That was the most amazing thing to me, that someone could be bored. Even on the way to the moon, there's a memoir by Gene Cernan about Apollo 17, and he says: A funny thing happened on the way to the moon - not much. Should have brought some crossword puzzles.

And that just blew me away that you could be on the way to the moon, and yet it would be boring.

More typically, it's the long missions of Mir or the International Space Station where you the scenery doesn't change. You can't go out for a walk. You're - I mean, the repetitiveness and the lack of color and, I mean, it just begins to seem mundane, and particularly when you're not you know, on a shuttle flight, you're busy. You've got so much going on and so much to do, I'm told, that boredom doesn't enter into it. But a long-term flight, yeah. It can be very tedious, apparently.

COX: What's the breakaway effect? Tell us what that is.

Ms. ROACH: The breakaway effect - this is something space psychiatrists and psychologists have talked about, and for a Mars mission, in particular, you -if we go to Mars, this would be the first time astronauts will lose sight of the home planet. Oh, sorry, that's Earth-out-of-view phenomenon.

Breakaway effect is something else. Breakaway effect, that was something way back in the early days. There was this notion that when you were flying, particular solo, that you would become enraptured with this feeling of power and that you would just want to go on and on and on, and that was a there was a lot of fear when they put the first man into space that he would just become enraptured by it and lose his mind and just, you know, want to take off and not be a responsible astronaut. So that was something - it didn't really come to pass, though.

COX: You remember the show "The Twilight Zone," I'm sure.

Ms. ROACH: Yes.

COX: And, you know, there have been episodes where people lined up to get on the spaceship to go someplace new, right? Do you remember that? You remember seeing something like that, I'm sure.

Ms. ROACH: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

COX: All right. So we have Pete on the line with us from Charlotte, North Carolina. And if there were such a show right now, Pete, I think you would be at the front of that line, wouldn't you?

PETE (Caller): What'd you say?

COX: I said you would be at the front of the line, ready to go, wouldn't you?

PETE: Yeah.

COX: Well, you're on TALK OF THE NATION, Pete. What's your question?

PETE: Oh, oh, definitely, pretty much as far as going into space, they had me at "Star Trek," you know, with that first statement, what is it, the final frontier.

Ms. ROACH: To boldly go...

PETE: Say again?

Ms. ROACH: To boldly go.

PETE: Yeah, to boldly go where no one or no man has gone before. And, you know, and honestly, I think it's truly the final frontier. You know, everybody (unintelligible) the top of a mountain and to most parts of the depths of seas, and to the North and South Pole. So, you know, the only thing that's holding us back is probably speed getting there.

COX: Hey, Pete, do you want to go to Mars? Would you like to be the first man on Mars?

PETE: Mars? Frankly, the moon is fine for me, really.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ROACH: I'm with you, Pete.

COX: He doesn't want to go too far from home.

Ms. ROACH: Exactly.

COX: Pete, thank you very much for that phone call.

PETE: Don't get me wrong. Mars, I have a feeling Mars is that little red dust planet and all that stuff.

Ms. ROACH: It's a long way away.

COX: That's a long ride.

PETE: Yeah, yeah, yeah, that's too boring for me. (unintelligible), it's kind of boring for me.

COX: Thank you very much for the call. That was interesting about going that far. Is there a fear of space and stars that people have?

Ms. ROACH: There is something called astrophobia, which is just the fear of space and stars. And there's this wonderful I remember coming across the definition on the Internet, and the little blurb there, it said: If you don't plan to travel in space, this may not be a consideration. It may not affect your life too much.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: One of the things that you talk a lot about, the food in space, I also notice that there's an issue of alcohol in space. What's happening with that?

Ms. ROACH: Well, there was a desire among some members of the space community to have either wine or beer aboard the spacecraft as something to, you know, a beverage with your dinner.

And they actually, there is a way carbonation is tricky in space because the gas bubbles don't rise to the surface, as they do in a glass on Earth. They tend to just sort of foam around and froth in the middle. So it's very difficult.

Coca-Cola actually came up with a way to do it, but the problem is that in the human stomach, if the gas bubbles don't rise to the top of the stomach, it's very difficult to burp, and it's very uncomfortable.

So there was Coke available, and you could do beer in space, but the astronauts wouldn't want to drink it because they just sort of feel bloated and uncomfortable, and when you do burp, it's a little messy because some sort of liquid comes out, and then nothing works up there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: You know, it's just - it's amazing all the different kinds of things that you have to take into consideration in space that we take for granted when we are here on the ground.

And you went through some of the testing, I guess, would be the best way to describe it that the astronauts go through. And you described some of it as being more difficult, you believe, on the ground, on Earth, than it actually is in space.

Ms. ROACH: Yes. One example I'll give you, and it's something that obviously everybody can relate to: a toilet, an Earth toilet, doesn't work in space. You need gravity for that to work.

So in space, they use air flow to sort of cause separation, as they call it, of the material from the body. It's a little gross. Forgive me. But now the problem here is you've got this very elaborate space toilet, and you need to test it.

Well, you've got to, you know, haul it over to Ellington Field, board it onto a zero-gravity simulator, a plane that does these elaborate up-and-down arcs, and then you've got to find some poor volunteer from the Waste System Management Office to test it.

And I don't know about you, but, I mean, to do it on demand in 20 seconds, now that is asking a lot of your colon. So it's very elaborate and tricky.

COX: That wasn't the one I was actually thinking you were going to talk about it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ROACH: Oh, I'm sorry.

COX: There were a lot of them that we could have picked from, and that was...

Ms. ROACH: And I picked that one, didn't I?

COX: That was an unfortunate one. Talk really briefly about the zero gravity experience that you had. Then we'll take a break, and we'll come back, and we'll continue.

Ms. ROACH: Oh, sure. Well, I was on - the same plane that you'd bring the toilet up on, I was on that, and it was an extraordinary experience because you are - you have no weight. And all of your organs have no weight, and it's this wonderful, physical euphoria. I want to do it again. I loved it.

COX: You know, we got a couple of emails I'll share with you, then we'll go to our break. This one comes from Steve in San Francisco. He says: What's the point of humans in space? Is it worth any of this effort and expense?

I don't know that we can get an answer for him. Here's another one from Paul: An irrepressible science fiction fan, I've dreamed of going to space since I was six years old. Now over 30 years later, I know the reality of space travel is far more dangerous and more pedestrian than in all those science fiction movies and novels and television shows. Still, a trip to Mars would be the trip of a lifetime: to climb Mount Olympus, to photograph the and I can't even pronounce this one. So I'll have to ask you what that is when we come back. He says he'd love to go. We'd love for you to go, as well.

We're talking about some of the many challenges of life in space with Mary Roach, whose book is titled "Packing for Mars." This is TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

COX: This is TALK OF THE NATION, and I'm Tony Cox, in Washington.

We're talking with Mary Roach about her book "Packing For Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void." You can read an excerpt at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Would you want to go into space and why? If you work in the aerospace industry, tell us about your experience with human space travel. We want to hear from you. Our number again: 800-989-8255. The email address, talk@npr.org.

So Mary, we have some callers lined up who have some interesting things to say and some questions. Let's take one. Here's the first one. This is Jay from Salt Lake City, Utah. Jay, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

JAY (Caller): Hey, how do you do today?

COX: We're fine. How are you?

Ms. ROACH: Hi, Jay.

JAY: Wonderful show. Hello. Yeah, I'm kind of going to go to the other side. I sort of believe that we should probably get away from deep space, you know, with the travel being so hazardous, with debris fields and such.

I thought, you know, it would just be better if we focused our attention and our money on deep sea exploration and deep sea colonies. You know, I believe that sustaining life, you know, in that atmosphere is a lot easier, seeing as we'll have the sea to extract from. We can already make clean water out of saltwater. We can, you know, of course, you know, grow plants and harvest from the sea, you know, as well as create our own Vitamin D. So, you know...

Ms. ROACH: That's a great point.

COX: Jay, thank you for that.

Ms. ROACH: I think that's a great point. We tend to every now and then, I'll stumble onto, on Discovery Channel, one of those programs where they show the life that's down by those thermal vents down, you know, way, way down with the Marianas Trench, or whatever. And talk about alien life.

I mean, and every time they go down, they're discovering new and bizarre things. And so all of the things that appeal to people about space are also valid when you look at deep sea exploration, and there's so much we don't know.

And it had never occurred to me, yeah, talking about possibly colonizing. Yeah, we have sort of an outer space right in our backyard.

COX: Here's another call. This is Jeff from oh, he's on the road. Jeff is on the road in Kentucky, unless that's the name of your town, Jeff. I'm not sure which.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JEFF (Caller): Actually, I'm from Ohio, but I'm on the road on business. I love this program. I've just got to pick up this book. First, a comment and then a question.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be an astronaut, but I grew up as a pragmatist, and I really think that what we've done in space up to this point is great for science, but I don't believe we have an International Space Station as much as an international low-Earth-orbit station.

The astronauts are still fairly protected within the electromagnetic field of the Earth. And when you get into these Mars missions, even the lunar missions, the astronauts always have to be able to get back to their land, or if there was a major solar event on the sun, then they would have minutes to get to the shelter before they would die on the surface.

How can you justify an 18 or 24-month mission when you really don't have an easy way to protect a human being in a spaceship like that, especially when you look at the weight of that type of protection? They're talking about using the water as a shield, et cetera. It's all heavy. It all costs a lot of money to put in orbit, let alone to...

COX: Well, I'll tell you what, Jeff. Let me interrupt you so we can get an answer to your question...

JEFF: Okay.

COX: ...because you've asked a good question, and there's a lot of information in there. So what's your answer for him, Mary?

Ms. ROACH: Sure. Well, that is a good point. One of the things NASA talks about when they do talk about a Mars mission or an extended foray into the world of cosmic radiation and major solar events is that you would probably be sending an astronaut in his or her 60s because they've had their children and, you know, right about the time they'd start to get you know, if you got cancer from an exposure, it would be probably 20 years down the line.

And there are astronauts who feel that that would be a nice way to close their career. So they do definitely look about think about sending older.

But you mentioned the shielding. And one of the interesting things that I learned about - the thinking is that, you know, because hydrocarbons are pretty good at radiation shielding, that you would use your food on your way out to Mars as shielding, and then you would actually save the astronauts' waste material and make kind of shingles and use that on the way back. So that way, you wouldn't have to carry the shielding.

So there's a lot of really creative thinking outside the box that goes on. Of course, who knows how effective that would be. I don't have the answer to that. But certainly, that is an enormous danger and consideration.

COX: Here's a related question. It comes from someone who I believe is actually in the aerospace industry, Artis(ph) in Houston. Artis writes: I thought the challenge for humans traveling to Mars is to have some bone density left by the time they arrive so they can survive the landing.

I understood the bones will actually be soft to support the human body. Is this true?

Ms. ROACH: You would have bone loss, anywhere from, what I've heard, on a two-plus-year Mars mission, you would run the risk of one-third to one-half loss of bone density, which is significant. It's on a par with someone being in a wheelchair, wheelchair-bound.

You definitely need to be exercising. And, I mean, and there isn't, at this point, an ideal countermeasure. I mean, there's a lot of exercising on treadmills. Of course, you have to bungee yourself to the treadmill to get any kind of approximation of weight-bearing exercise in zero gravity. So that is a huge challenge, and that is one more thing to be concerned about.

COX: Before we take a call from Kentucky, here's another email that we got: How long does it take an astronaut to adjust their sleep pattern without gravity?

Ms. ROACH: You know, I think it's different for all different astronauts. I know that they do fly sleep medications because, you know, if you listen to NASA TV - and I'm the kind of geek who does. I love NASA TV - they'll say: The astronauts are entering the pre-sleep phase with sleep at 11:58, and the wakeup call will be in the morning. And it's like exactly eight hours later to the minute.

So, you know, who can sleep like this? And plus, the schedule is changing all the time. So sleep meds are your friend, I think.

COX: Well, you know, one of the interesting things you wrote in the book about, talking about sleep, was that no snoring is allowed. Was that the name of one of your chapters, no snoring allowed?

Ms. ROACH: There was when I was at the Japanese Space Agency, I observed they were doing sort of an isolation of 10 candidates to become astronauts. And I said, so what are some of the things that you look at? And he went through the list. And I said okay, what else, what else? And he said: snoring. This is a consideration. If you snore a lot, it keeps everybody else up. So if you're a heavy snorer and that's something they can tell because they have this you know, they've got these candidates in little sleeping bunks, and somebody's monitoring the snoring.

COX: I guess that rules me out for ever making it into outer space. Steve is going to join us from Florence, Kentucky. Steve, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

STEVE (Caller): Yeah, hi.

COX: Hi.

Ms. ROACH: Hi.

STEVE: I was very interested in the last few callers. I understand that when people are actually put into a Faraday cage, so there's no electromagnetic radiation actually comes in contact with them, that they kind of lose the ability to consciously think. As I understand it, when humans go into space, this is a problem. How has NASA dealt with this?

Ms. ROACH: Well, when I asked about that, because I had heard this term called space stupids, that you get a case of the space stupids. And I had thought that was specifically an effect either of something unique to space. I didn't realize, in fact, what they were talking about - what I was told that the space stupids has to do with lack of sleep, stress, possibly medication that you're on, all the sort of stresses that astronauts deal with on a short mission, and that it's the same thing as, you know, you cramming for exams one week and being up late and a little discombobulated. I'm not aware of anything beyond that. That's not to say it doesn't exist.

COX: We're talking about space and going into outer space. Our guest is Mary Roach, author of the book "Packing For Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void." If you'd like to join the conversation, give us a ring: 800-989-8255. Or email us at talk@npr.org.

Going back to that list, Mary, that I told you that I had at the beginning, here's another one. You know, I would think that being in a shuttle or being at the space station would be pretty safe from crime. So what need is there for people to take weapons up there? There are guns up there, aren't there?

Ms. ROACH: Well, there were guns I'm not sure of the current protocol, but in the earlier, you know, way - going back to the beginning of space travel and the - there were rumors that during the first spacewalk, Alexey Leonov, there was a rumor that if he couldn't get back into the capsule for some reason that his crewmate was supposed to shoot him.

And I looked into this, and in fact, that is not true. The reason that they carried little pistolets again, it has to be lightweight, this is space pistolet, the reason was because when they come down, it's not a water landing like we had with the U.S. space program.

It's they come down in the wilds of, like, you know, the Kazakh Steppe. And there was an instance where they landed in a terrain where there were wolves. And so for that reason, they - and they felt threatened. So for that reason, pistolets were packed. And that's the only weaponry in space that I'm familiar with. I don't know about anything else.

COX: Do you know whether or not a gun would even operate in zero gravity?

Ms. ROACH: Oh, you know, that's something for the "Mythbusters" to play around with. You know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: Let's call them right away. Let's get them on the phone.

Ms. ROACH: I don't know. Yeah, yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: All right. In the meantime, let's talk to Jim from Eagle River, Alaska. Jim, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

JIM (Caller): Hello. Thanks.

Ms. ROACH: Hi.

JIM: I've wondered - I've heard a lot of space shows and no one - in science fiction, you solve the gravity problem by spinning the space station or the vehicle so that there's at least half of gravity, and that would solve a lot of the problems like bone loss and toilet design and all kinds of stuff.

Ms. ROACH: Yes.

JIM: Why don't they do that? Is there some real difficulty with...

Ms. ROACH: I think - well, the - it's a big, moving part. And my understanding is that - it just - it makes the design very complicated and that - but, yes, you're right. That would be the most effective - like in "2001," when Keir Dullea is jogging on that big ring in the - in space, a similar thing. It would just sort of spin you outward toward the edge of it and you'd be running along like - kind of like a hamster in a wheel sort of thing. And that would work. And I think it's - there have been attempts that have sort of stalled and any number of - sort of typical space program problems probably brought it down.

COX: Thank you for that call. You know, one of the other things that you talk about in the book is that you have people from different nations going up together to the space station, for example, and that creates or can create certain cross cultural kinds of problems - communication, for one, and other things.

Ms. ROACH: Yep.

COX: Tell us a little bit about how much of an issue that is and how people are dealing with it.

Ms. ROACH: I think the cross-cultural issues are even more - I mean, we'll talk about mixed gender flights, and that's going to be difficult or whatever. But that - it's not, really. It's - I think cross-cultural issues are more difficult. The thing is, though, with a mission, the crew have trained together for some duration of months or even, in the case of Mars, probably it would be years. So they would kind of work that stuff out beforehand, most likely.

COX: Inside the capsule, if you're in it, what is it - I don't want to say what it - does it feel like, because I'm imagining that it would be very cramped. Is there a smell, an aroma to being in there?

Ms. ROACH: Oh, yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: One that we can talk - is there one that we can talk about?

Ms. ROACH: One that we can talk about. Well, you know, I - yes, I was talking to a couple of cosmonauts for the book. I spent time in Star City, outside of Moscow. And one of the cosmonauts had this description, and he said, can you imagine - he said it smells of paint, of rubber. Can you imagine, Mary, being locked in a parked car for six weeks, or whatever? It was - he said, sometimes ladies would send us perfume. We would get letters. They would make, you know -send - the resupply vehicle would bring not only food and other necessities, but letters from women who would perfume their letters. And he said, we just loved when we got those letters. You would have good dreams when you'd smell the French perfume. They so wanted to smell something other than manmade offgassing.

COX: That's an interesting situation.

Ms. ROACH: Yeah. Yeah.

COX: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

Something else that the book includes that I would like to ask you about is this: We talked about - already, we've talked about guns. We've talked about snoring. We've talked about bored and we've talked about fear. We've talked about food. We've talked about, you know, bodily functions. There are religious rituals that people who are up there for an extended period time would like to practice, and sometimes they are able to and sometimes they are not. And I'm thinking now, Mary Roach, about other rite of communion. And that creates problems, too, doesn't it?

Ms. ROACH: Yes. I stumbled onto this information that Buzz Aldrin had had done sort of a do-it-yourself communion. And because of the weight restrictions -particularly, you know, with a voyage to the moon, where you're having to escape the gravitational pull of the Earth and really, you know, blast that sucker out there into the void, weight is very carefully controlled. So he brought, apparently, it was kind of a thimble for the wine, and then a little, tiny host. And he did kind of a do-it-yourself communion there on the moon, with the guidance of his - I'm not sure what denomination it was.

COX: What about travel outside, when you're tethered to the spacecraft? As we've already indicated in the news just today, that they're going to be doing that this week and there's some repair work at the space station that needs to be done right now. How much of an issue is that as far as preparing and being able to, you know, pull off what's necessary?

Ms. ROACH: Well, normally, when you go up on a mission that's going to involve an EVA - they call it extravehicular activity - outside the spacecraft, a space walk, they will have rehearsed it in this huge swimming pool called the neutral buoyancy tank, and they'll - you'll be floating - the astronaut will be - put -will put on his spacewalking suit, the big, kind of bulky, white, marshmallowy thing. He'll put that on, and he will go - he or she will go through and rehearse exactly the things that he or she will have to do.

And it's because you're out in the void, you've got - you got a lot of handholds all over the outside exterior of the spacecraft. It's looking like a nursing home. There are handrails everywhere, because you're holding on for dear life. If - you know, you don't want to let go and drift away. There are -everything has to be tethered. And your gloves - they're pressurized, so it's tiring to use your hands, and so there are special tools that are involved to make the task simpler. A lot of bolt tightening and, you know, pushing something in and pulling it out. There's not a lot of fine detailed work, because it is so difficult to use your fingers.

But one statistic I heard, for a six-hour EVA, this astronaut told me, 250 hours in the tank training for it.

COX: That's amazing.

Ms. ROACH: Yeah.

COX: You've got so much information in this book, "Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void." My final question to you is, we are, it seems, at the crossroads with regard to our involvement in space, a Senate panel voting to send NASA on a new course, the moon program being terminated and replaced with something as yet unnamed. Really briefly, do you know what direction we might be heading? Are we shutting down?

Ms. ROACH: Oh, I hope not. I really hope not. I mean, the International Space Station - I mean, really, I mean, all - there's a lot of science that goes on, and it's - I don't mean to downplay it. But really, it's been this 10-year exercise in global cooperation in space. And it's all, sort of, building toward something like a Mars mission, and it would seem like such a shame to stop now.

COX: If you had a chance to go - this is my absolute final question. Yes or no: If you had a chance to go to Mars, would you go?

Ms. ROACH: Can I go to the moon instead?

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: Mary Roach is the author of "Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void." You can read an excerpt at npr.org. Just click on TALK OF THE NATION. She joined us from NPR's bureau in New York City. Mary, once again, thank you very much, a fascinating book.

Ms. ROACH: Thank you so much, Tony.

COX: Up next, the color of change at Essence magazine. What difference does it make if they hire a white fashion director at the once black-owned publication? We'll talk with Mark Anthony Neal about what's at stake.

I'm Tony Cox. It's TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

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