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Mary Roach – Packing for Mars

July 30, 2010

LibraryThing Early Reviewers84. Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach (2010)

Length: 336 pages

Genre: Non-Fiction

Started: 14 July 2010
Finished: 17 July 2010

Where did it come from? LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers
Why do I have it? I’ve enjoyed Mary Roach’s other books.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 12 July 2010.

Life in space: not as
cushy as the Enterprise
might have made it seem.

Summary: News reports on the space program have tended to focus on the technological advances: rocket fuel, docking procedures, and re-entry chutes seem to be the main concern of NASA (and its foreign counterparts.) However, the main barrier between us and the stars (or even the next planet) is not technology, it’s biology. Life evolved in gravity, and processes that barely require conscious thought on Earth’s surface become challenging (to say the least) in zero g. In Packing for Mars, Mary Roach tackles the human side of the space program: everything from eating to excreting and showering to seasickness. She looks at the evolution of the space program as it has dealt with these basic realities of life, describes the current state of the art technologies and research, discusses the future of space exploration, and in general throws herself into her research with her trademark enthusiasm, sense of humor, and flair for describing the foibles of human life, even when that life is floating 62 miles above Earth’s surface.

Review: The best thing about Mary Roach’s books is that she always manages to get me engaged in topics in which I didn’t even know I was interested. I’ve never been particularly fascinated by the space program; my interest in astronauts extended about as far as making sure I had enough money left from my allowance to buy freeze-dried ice cream on class field trips to the planetarium. But, as usual, Mary Roach was able to find the right angle from which to present the material: by focusing on the human aspects, it made the material accessible and familiar in its strangeness. As I read, I certainly was thinking things like “Could I really stay reclining in the same position for two weeks without changing out of my spacesuit? What would sleeping in zero g really be like? And how *would* I go about peeing in space?”

Fans of Roach’s previous books will certainly recognize her trademark style. She’s got a wicked sense of humor, and the book is packed with funny bits and hilarious one-liners. Some of the chapters tend a little to the juvenile gross-out side of things, but I suspect that when writing an entire chapter on space toilets, a few fart jokes are just par for the course. Roach’s somewhat rambling, easily distracted writing style is present here as well; she’s a big fan of footnotes and digressions (a quote from an astronaut about being “sick as a dog” leads to a few pages of discussing research into whether it’s possible to make a dog seasick, as compared to various other animals), but the digressions are always interesting and often hilarious, and they never make her main point hard to follow. I did have a bit of a problem staying on top of the various acronyms and astronaut names, since there’s a lot of them, and individual biographies are never the purpose of the book. But overall, I learned a lot of interesting trivia, got quite a few good laughs, and will never take my toilet for granted again. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Anyone who wanted to go to Space Camp as a kid or who is looking forward to the advent of space tourism should definitely read this one, but I think fans of Roach’s previous books will enjoy this as well, whether or not they have a preexisting interest in space travel.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: To the rocket scientist, you are a problem.

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22 Comments leave one →
  1. July 30, 2010 1:11 am

    I received this from Early Reviewers as well, but I haven’t had the chance to pick it up yet. So many books, so little time.

    • August 3, 2010 9:45 am

      Trisha – Normally I let books (even Early Reviewers books) sit around for a little longer than this before starting, but I was in the mood for something light, fast, and not too serious, and this seemed like it would fit the bill.

  2. July 30, 2010 3:25 am

    This sounds like such a great read. All of Mary Roach’s books so, really. I can’t believe I’ve yet to read a single one.

    • August 3, 2010 9:46 am

      Nymeth – This was my least favorite of the three I’ve read so far (I still haven’t read Stiff!), but that’s entirely due to the fact that the subject matter is the one I had the least inherent interest in.

  3. July 30, 2010 3:47 am

    I sure hope to read this sometime soon! I love Mary Roach! To think I’ve only read Stiff :)

    • August 3, 2010 9:47 am

      Lightheaded – I hope you can lay hands on a copy, of this or any of her other books – they’re all good!

  4. July 30, 2010 8:51 am

    I’ve never been into space stuff either, but I’m still interested in this. I bet my husband would love it!

    • August 3, 2010 9:48 am

      bermudaonion – I’ve got friends who are astro-nuts who I know would love, love, love this book… I know what they’re getting for Christmas!

  5. July 30, 2010 9:10 am

    I’ve never read Mary Roach- just flipping through Spook scared me when I was fifteen. But this sounds like a great place to start with her.

    • August 3, 2010 9:49 am

      Omni – What about Spook scared you? I’m usually a litmus test for the slightest bit of scary stuff but it didn’t really bother me…

  6. July 30, 2010 11:17 am

    I haven’t read anything by Mary Roach yet, but people keep telling me I need to pick up Stiff. I think I’ll add this one to the list too since it sound quite interesting.

    • August 3, 2010 9:50 am

      toothy – I started with Bonk and loved it, but we’ll chalk that one up to me being a biologist. :)

  7. July 30, 2010 11:24 am

    Hey Fyrefly,
    I don’t know if you accept awards but I have one for you here:

  8. July 30, 2010 5:35 pm

    I love it when a book makes you interested in something you hadn’t ever even considered before. I need to get on the Mary Roach bandwagon–I don’t know what’s taking me so long!

    • August 3, 2010 9:51 am

      Jenny – Victoria Findlay’s another author who’s excellent at getting me interested in the most random of topics… I wish both of them would write more books!

  9. August 1, 2010 6:56 pm

    I’m glad this one is good! I got a copy at BEA, but haven’t gotten the chance to read it yet.

    • August 3, 2010 9:52 am

      Kim – It’s a pretty fast read, and definitely the sort of thing that you can read in smaller chunks over a longer period without losing anything.

  10. August 2, 2010 1:57 pm

    I really need to just go ahead and read one of her books already! I have a couple on my shelves.

    • August 3, 2010 9:52 am

      Jen – Next time you’re feeling in the mood for something interesting but not too serious, definitely grab one!


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