In Space, No One Can Hear You Laugh

Author Mary Roach goes strange places to get a story. She once accompanied a small army of doctors practicing facelifts on severed heads. She also asks odd questions — is there really something to this whole afterlife thing, and how might we prove it? She takes humorous looks at issues we study but don't always like to talk about. See: 10 things you didn't know about orgasm, from Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex. It's been said that Roach is impervious to embarrassment, but we'll take it one step further: We think she likes embarrassment — of her subjects. Imagine the reaction of the NASA scientists, for example, when she asked about the complications of eating, using the bathroom, or having sex while weightless. The answers are part of her latest book, Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void, which she discusses tonight. Embarrassment or not, Roach likes to jump into the squirmy end herself. She volunteers to try out the “trainer” toilet at the Johnson Space Center. She also rides in a military cargo jet that simulates zero gravity — and can't help getting all Superman while floating in the air. She interviews former space travelers and explores things such as space suits for chimpanzees and the rigorous psychological training of Japanese astronauts. Accompanying her is the band One Ring Zero, whose song "Zero-Gravity Blues" suggests its members share Roach's humorous take on the great beyond.
Tue., Dec. 14, 7 p.m., 2010

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