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Engadget Animated: Mary Roach discusses the impact of space travel on the human body

Brian Heater

"I feel a little uncomfortable with the title," Mary Roach explains. The term "science writer" has never quite fit. "I think of myself as more of a gateway drug to science for people who don't think science is interesting." It's a point well taken. After all, in spite of having penned several best-selling titles on the subject, the author doesn't really have much in the way of a background, entering the book writing game with a BA and assorted magazine articles to her name. But while Roach lacks any sort of formal training, what the writer does possess is an uncanny talent making complex scientific concepts accessible to the layreader, distilling them to their most basic -- and often disgusting -- core.

It's a skill that has made for a good deal of required reading, including 2010's Packing For Mars, which ought be on the list anyone with even the remotest interest in space travel. Even with that in mind, however, the book's not likely to win NASA any new recruits in the near future, focused largely on the sorts of impact manned space travel has on the human body. It's an impact that, naturally, involves its share of bodily fluids. "Any machine or piece of equipment that works here on Earth in Earth gravity doesn't necessarily work in zero gravity," explains Roach. "It has to be rethought, re-tinkered, completely redesigned, and that includes the toilet." We'll leave some of that to your imagination -- and to Roach's book -- but let's just say that Packing for Mars uses the word "popcorn" in ways you'd likely never imagined. After the break, watch as a particularly animated Roach gets deep and dirty with the oft-unexamined impacts of going into outer space.

This segment originally appeared in Engadget Show episode 41.

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