Mary Roach's 6 favorite books
Riding Rockets by Mike Mullane (Scribner, $17). You have to love an astronaut who refers to the space shuttle’s elaborate emergency abort procedures as “busy-work while dying.” Being an astronaut takes balls, but maybe the bravest thing Mullane ever did was publish this book.
The Astronaut’s Cookbook by Charles T. Bourland and Gregory L. Vogt (Springer, $30). Bourland was director of the NASA space food program for decades. His stories, not the recipes, are the yummy part of this book. Learn here why the Russians refused to ship Twinkies to Mir, and why tourists are the only people eating “astronaut ice cream.”
Diary of a Cosmonaut by Valentin Lebedev (out of print). This is raw feed: 300 pages of diary entries from the record-setting 1982 Salyut 7 space lab mission. Things are not going well. The upholstery is off-gassing, the toilet system’s “overfill” warning light is blinking, and the cosmonauts are not speaking to one another. Still, it is the poignancy of Lebedev’s writing that makes this a standout among space tell-alls.
Apollo 13 (Lost Moon) by Jeffrey Kluger and Jim Lovell (Mariner, $15). This book about the nearly disastrous 1970 moon mission probably should be ranked alongside The Right Stuff as one of the greatest space reads ever.
Another Science Fiction: Advertising the Space Race, 1957–1962 by Megan Prelinger (Blast Books, $30). Prelinger is a space historian and collector of space ephemera, including the early aerospace industry journals whose ads form the visual spine of this unusual book. Don’t just look at the pictures, though. It’s one of the best histories of the early push to space.
Apollo Lunar Surface Journal (Hq.nasa.gov/alsj). Not a book, but a collection of transcripts of Apollo astronauts providing commentary as they listen to audio feed from their missions. Jim Irwin admits to having faked a seat belt malfunction to buy time to gather rock samples. Charlie Duke reminisces about his urine-collection device coming off as he was about to leave the moon’s surface: “You know, warm stream down the leg and a boot full of urine … .”
—Mary Roach explored the "curious lives of cadavers" in Stiff and the "curious coupling of science and sex" in Bonk. Now she’s curious about space travel. Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void was published this week