the Little Red Reviewer

Packing for Mars, by Mary Roach

Posted on: March 5, 2012

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void, by Mary Roach

published in 2010

Where I got it:  the library

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Beyond the obvious, food, water, energy, what would we need for a trip to Mars? The aeronautical engineers have already done all the math for us, they know to within a miligram exactly how much food and water can get sent up in a rocket needing how much fuel.  But what about everything else?

What about everything we take for granted down on Earth, that suddenly become much more difficult when there is little to no gravity?  What kind of clothes would you wear? how would you take a shower?  Can you eat a sandwich? Enjoy the smell of vanilla flavored cookies? What goes in must go out, so how would you go to the bathroom in zero gravity? Even worse, what if free fall makes you sick to your stomach?

Leave to to Mary Roach to find the truth, the deepest darkest details of what we need for space.  From parabololic flights on NASA’s specially outfitted military plane (known coloquially as the vomit comet) to speaking with Russian cosmonauts, polar scientists, veterenary food specialists and marine biologists, Roach finds that everything that could possibly go up in a rocket or shuttle must be tested, tested, and tested some more by folks willing to sleep for weeks or experience high end G-forces.

I heard about this book from Dark Cargo, and her review had me laughing so hard that I just had to search the thing out for myself. I read so much science fiction, I figured I might as well read a non-fiction book about the science of actually going to the stars. I’m happy to report that Packing for Mars is the easiest to digest, funniest science book I’ve ever read. If you’ve read Mary Roach before, you know her journalistic eye jumps from more detail than you ever wanted to the gross and disgusting bits that you probably never wanted. Packing for Mars is no different.  It’s not that getting to Mars is gross or disgusting, it’s that the shuttle that heads there will be filled with gross, disgusting, squishy things. And those gross squishy things are us.  I learned the hard way not to eat while reading, and I cracked up laughing about every other page.

I’m sure Roach never meant for Packing for Mars to be so funny. This is serious stuff – there is detailed not-appropriate-for-children information about the Challenger and Columbia disasters. There some difficult to read bits about early rocket disasters involving suffocation and red smears.  But there’s also that paragraph about testing zero gravity toilets on a parabolic flight requiring poop-on-demand, and let’s not forget the chapter on dolphin penises.

Did you read that last sentence twice? ;)

Space is scary and dangerous and can kill us instantaneously.  But in all that danger, there is much humor to be found in how to safely get us squishy humans up there safely.

Packing for Mars is for anyone who ever dreamed of growing up to be an astronaut, anyone who ever has ever watched NASA TV, anyone who has ever dreamed up experiencing zero gravity or seeing the Earth from the orbit of the Moon. Basically, all of us.

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18 Responses to "Packing for Mars, by Mary Roach"

I love Mary Roach. Stiff, the Curious Life of Cadavers is one of my favorites. I’ll have to pick this one up soon. Thanks for the review.

I started reading Stiff, but never got the chance to finish it, but what I read of it, I really enjoyed! creepy, but cool.

I read this one going out to my father-in-laws for a visit. It was quite entertaining. It would have been interesting if my wife and i would have been flying instead of driving..lol.

Reading your review makes me want to see what other books that she has under her belt. Thanks for the memory jog.

i dunno if i’d wanna read this while on an airplane. . . especially if there was turbulence!

I too learned the hard way that this book should not be read while eating — I kept reading but didn’t finish my lunch that day. Her book about ghosts was good too, Spook I think. Stiff is on my list too.

now I want to read everything she’s written! yeah, this book and the texture of burritos. .. bad combination!

I’ve heard good things, and a few bad, about the book. I remember either hearing a review of it on NPR or an interview with Mary Roach herself, I cannot recall which, but at any rate it had me intrigued about the book. Glad to hear that it was so entertaining. Wonder if my library has it on audio? Sounds like something that would be entertaining on my work commute.

keep in mind that old rule about medication: don’t drive until you know how it will effect you. I wouldn’t want you to be listening to this in the car, and then laugh so hard you can’t see.

all this human body stuff really shouldn’t be so funny, but she makes it disgustingly hilarious!

That’s why I take the back roads to work. If I drive in the ditch while laughing at least I won’t hurt anyone else.

I would never ever be an astronaut and never for a moment considered being one, but I still want to read this. I like knowing about jobs I’d never have. Makes me feel like I’m not missing anything.

I’ve heard Mary Roach speak a few times on Fora.tv – she’s so shocking and funny and interesting, I immediately wanted to read her books. I haven’t gotten around to doing so yet (sigh), but your review reminds that I need to do so asap!

I am so glad you enjoyed her book. Bonk was the first Mary Roach book I read – as an audio. Talk about distracting! I will be reading Spook soon – picking up from the library later this week. Stiff was creepy and excellent.

I started reading Roach, but then I got a bit side-tracked. I need to get back around to it! (I was reading Bonk)

Can’t wait to read this!

[...] Little Red Reviewer reviews Packing for Mars by Mary Roach, which sounds like about as much fun as you can have with a popular science [...]

This one has been on my list for awhile. I am *so* behind!

I saw an excerpt talking about fingernails and astronaut gloves, and I will not go any further because I sort of wish I could un-know it. I’m not sure if that actually made it into this book.

ahh, science – so many things about the human body you wish you could un-know!

[…] Little Red Reviewer reviews Packing for Mars by Mary Roach, which sounds like about as much fun as you can have with a popular science […]

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About this redhead, etc.

Redhead is a snarky, non-politically correct 30-something who reviews mostly science fiction and fantasy and talks about all sorts of other fun scifi and fantasy geekery. She once wrote a haiku that included the word triskaidekaphobia.

This blog contains adult language and strong opinions. The best way to contact her outside of this blog is twitter, where she is @redhead5318 .

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