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At the dawn of the space age, nobody had any idea what effects travel into space might have on living beings, foremost among them the intrepid pilots of the first ships to explore the void. No organism from the ancestral cell of all terrestrial life up to the pointiest-headed professor speculating about its consequences had ever experienced more than an instant of weightlessness, and that usually ended badly with a sudden stop against an unyielding surface. (Fish and human divers are supported by their buoyancy in the water, but they are not weightless: the force of Earth's gravity continues to act upon their internal organs, and might prove to be essential for their correct functioning.) The eye, for example, freed of the pull of gravity, might change shape so that it couldn't focus; it might prove impossible to swallow; digestion of food in the stomach might not work without gravity to hold the contents together at the bottom; urination might fail without gravity working on the contents of the bladder, etc., etc.. The only way to be sure was to go and find out, and this delightful and witty book covers the quest to discover how to live in space, from the earliest animal experiments of the 1940s (most of which ended poorly for the animals, not due to travelling in space, but rather the reliability of the rockets and recovery systems to which they were entrusted) to present day long duration space station missions and research into the human factors of exploration missions to Mars and the asteroids.

To read the rest of John Walker's book review, click here.