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Friday, July 10, 2020

Book Review: Once Upon a Time I Lived on Mars: Space, Exploration, and Life on Earth by Kate Greene

Kate majored in Chemistry and got a Master's in Physics. She applied to NASA and got turned down, so she became a science journalist instead. Years later, she saw a notice about this experiment that needed volunteers, applied, and was selected. She became one of five "astronauts" who went to Hawaii for five months and lived in a geodesic dome.

Their primary goal was to study food and eating. It's a big problem in space. On the International Space Station, after the first month, most astronauts basically stop eating. The most coveted item on the ISS is hot sauce. This is troublesome in and of itself as it has a serious impact on the health of our astronauts and needs to be solved if we truly want to have long-term space programs. And speaking of long-term space programs, food is also an issue there because if you think about something like a mission to Mars, food will be the biggest weight, biggest mass, and biggest expense for the trip. Can we let astronauts cook? On the ISS they actually grow a few foods--can that be improved on?

In addition to this study, each of the "astronauts" have their own studies they're responsible for and Kate's is about sleep. Others are studying things like isolation and group dynamics and leadership. Even though she never left the planet (except presumably to fly to Hawaii but she was still within the atmosphere), she will greatly help the future of space travel.

Interestingly, this experience also changed her life. She was not the same woman coming out of this experiment as she was going in. She writes about everything so beautifully, so poetically, you forget you're reading about science. And it's styled as individual essays so even though they certainly come together into a cohesive whole, you don't have to read it all through at once.

It's a fascinating, thoughtful, and unexpectedly lovely essay collection covering Ms. Greene's experience as a pretend astronaut, performing scientific experiments for the future of the space program.

This book is published by St. Martin's Publishing Group, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

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