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Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of…
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Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void

by Mary Roach

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2,0481833,255 (4.01)334
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In her book, Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void, Mary Roach explores much of the fascinating everyday science that plays a role in space travel. In sixteen chapters, the book covers such diverse subjects as the psychology behind choosing astronauts for space missions, the multitude of physical and psychological effects of space travel and tight confinement on humans, sex, food, motion sickness, and even the seemingly basic task of using the bathroom. All of these elements take on a new meaning and level of importance when we, as a species, seek to launch ourselves into the zero-gravity environment of space. Interspersing her scientific investigation and interviews with a multitude of anecdotes, humorous commentary, and an often nausea-inducing level of detail; Roach culminates her work with an unexpected plea for support for a $500 billion mission to Mars. While the desire to bring humanity forward to the next great frontier of space is commendable, the way in which the desire is ultimately brought forward, with no prior mention and little direct support or evidence of the benefits or feasibility of such a mission, ultimately ends the book on a rather disappointing note. Still, Roach has plenty to offer to all the science and space nerds, Star Wars and Star Trek geeks, and the casually curious readers, as long as they all have a somewhat strong stomach and a real desire to learn something about the less visible and recognized side of what is involved in space travel.

When one considers the reality of space travel, as well as the dangers and complications inherent in launching largely fragile lifeforms such as humans into the void of space, with the specific survival needs and limitations that we face as a species, it is really no wonder that Roach is able to offer up a wide range of challenges and risks involved not just with the history of successful space travel but with every subsequent mission as well. Roach does have a tendency to launch into sometimes disturbing tangents that are not truly pressing for a reader. She spends four full pages detailing her investigation regarding a pornographic film that purported to involve a sex scene filmed in zero-gravity, explores the truth behind various rumors regarding space chimp masturbation, and spends a sizable portion of her chapter on the history of toilet use in space travel detailing the exact usage and difficulties of various technologies to that effect. Despite these tangents, overall the narrative of the book creates a sense of true intrigue and interest. After all, even if the reader is unfamiliar with the animals that preceded humans into space, the various human experiments and investigations that play critical roles within the space program, or the details behind the human body’s ability to withstand various forces, they are without a doubt compelling subjects of exploration behind the central subject matter.

While these tangents can sometimes be truly disturbing, the humor that is inserted within some of the more illness-inducing moments salvages things, such as when Roach explores the results of long-term lack of bathing on the human body, only for the reader to hear that Jim Lovell himself remarks that “you’re investigating a rather unusual aspect of space flight.” This effectively breaks up what would otherwise be a non-stop thrill-ride of bacteria, body odor, and the recounting of results from several experiments done on the subject. Indeed, Roach’s personality, inserted via several choice points of commentary and selective rendering of outside information, is by far the most enjoyable aspect of the book, as is the way she so frequently makes use of humor without directly referring to herself. On the other hand, when Roach details such information as the risks involved in an astronaut regurgitating inside their helmet, thus risking exposing the eyes to stomach acids, the imagery is not necessarily needed, and is certainly never appreciated. While the fact a reader needs a strong stomach in order to read this book has already been alluded to, it might be more accurate to say that the reader need not be a visual thinker if they wish to be able to appreciate the science without being subject to disturbing mental images of the book’s content. Though, even in this, it is ultimately worth it, as Roach reveals countless dynamics no reader uninvolved in spaceflight is likely to have ever considered.

Using her casual narrative style, in which Roach blends a series of interviews and factual investigations into a cohesive whole, Roach’s tone creates a compelling and easily understood read for even the most casual and widespread audience. While the key argument of the book, regarding the hope of a manned mission to Mars, is not brought forward and argued until the last pages of the text, this stands out as the one true weakness of an otherwise fascinating text. This is particularly true in light of the fact that the majority of the book up to that point is spent going into great detail regarding the difficulties, challenges, and risks involved in even the smallest and most everyday aspects of space travel. Just as mankind has always looked to the stars and dreamed of travelling among them, driven by a curiosity too powerful to restrain, so too have those not fortunate enough to make the journey remained intrigued about what awaits us there, and what it takes to go safely. ( )
  TiffanyAK | May 14, 2015 |
I still have lots of questions. And I'm tired of Roach's forced humor - I thought there was enough humor just from the situations and the people she interviewed. But there's some interesting nuggets information in this collection of anecdotes and mini-science lessons, so I don't regret the read.

Roach informs us that wild dogs eat the stomach of their prey first, and that the contents of that herbivore give them their vegetables. Also that methane is odorless. Also that the 'aliens' at Roswell were dummy astronauts re' experiments on bailing out at altitude.

I did listen to some of the audiobook, too, and the narrator did a great job. If you have a choice, go with the audio. ( )
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Apr 14, 2015 |
Trust Mary Roach to make rocket science understandable, engaging, and hilarious. Chock-full of fascinating details, little known trivia, and laugh-out-loud anecdotes, this romp through the staid atmosphere of NASA is a delight. Whether you've read all of Roach's books or if this is your first experience, her charming style and lighthearted diction will draw you in with answers to all the unglamorous details of space travel. Exactly how do you poo in space? Is sexual congress possible in a weightless environment? Will you die if you vomit in your space suit? All these questions will be answered and much much more. ( )
  Juva | Mar 26, 2015 |
Interesting book! Could not get through chapter 10 (not showering doesn't gross me out, but for some reason the biological descriptions did! ( )
  jrsearcher | Feb 12, 2015 |
Full of interesting factoids, and written in a very readable, slighty snarky style that I enjoyed.

I was, however, hoping to come out of reading this with something more -- a greater feeling of inspiration or hope for the space program and a possible Mars mission. Instead, I felt that mostly I just had a collection of factoids. Interesting, but somehow leaving me feeling unsatisfied.

Also, I can't read about Laika the space dog without getting upset. So that probably affected my experience negatively too...
  devafagan | Jan 2, 2015 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Mary Roachprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Burr, SandraNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cipriano, EllenDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Druskin, JuliaProduction managersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Keenan, JamieCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wiemer, FredCopyeditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Dedication
For Jay Mandel and Jill Bialosky, with cosmic gratitude
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COUNTDOWN
To the rocket scientist, you are a problem.
Quotations
If you stumbled onto Building 993 at Ellington Field airport, you would have to stop and wonder about the things inside. The sign on the front is as evocative and preposterous as the engraved brass one that says Ministry of Silly Walks in the Monty Python sketch of the same name. This sign says REDUCED GRAVITY OFFICE. I know what is in there, but even so, I have to stand for a moment and indulge my imagination, through which coffeepots are floating and secretaries drift here and there like paper airplanes. Or better still, an organization devoted to the taking of absolutely nothing seriously.
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Contents:

He's smart but his birds are sloppy: Japan picks an astronaut -- Life in a box: the perilous psychology of isolation and confinement -- Star crazy: can space blow your mind? -- You go first: the alarming prospect of life without gravity -- Unstowed: escaping gravity on board NASA's C-9 -- Throwing up and down: the astronaut's secret misery -- The cadaver in the space capsule: NASA visits the crash test lab -- One furry step for mankind: the strange careers of Ham and Enos -- Next gas 200,000 miles: planning a moon expedition is tough, but not as tough as planning a simulated one -- Houston, we have a fungus: space hygiene and the men who stopped bathing for science -- The horizontal stuff: what if you never got out of bed? -- The three-dolphin club: mating without gravity -- Withering heights: bailing out from space -- Separation anxiety: the continuing saga of zero-gravity elimination -- Discomfort food: when veterinarians make dinner, and other tales of woe from aerospace test kitchens -- Eating your pants: is Mars worth it?
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0393068471, Hardcover)

Amazon Best Books of the Month, August 2010: With her wry humor and inextinguishable curiosity, Mary Roach has crafted her own quirky niche in the somewhat staid world of science writing, showing no fear (or shame) in the face of cadavers, ectoplasm, or sex. In Packing for Mars, Roach tackles the strange science of space travel, and the psychology, technology, and politics that go into sending a crew into orbit. Roach is unfailingly inquisitive (Why is it impolite for astronauts to float upside down during conversations? Just how smelly does a spacecraft get after a two week mission?), and she eagerly seeks out the stories that don't make it onto NASA's website--from SPCA-certified space suits for chimps, to the trial-and-error approach to crafting menus during the space program's early years (when the chefs are former livestock veterinarians, taste isn't high on the priority list). Packing for Mars is a book for grownups who still secretly dream of being astronauts, and Roach lives it up on their behalf--weightless in a C-9 aircraft, she just can't resist the opportunity to go "Supermanning" around the cabin. Her zeal for discovery, combined with her love of the absurd, amazing, and stranger-than-fiction, make Packing for Mars an uproarious trip into the world of space travel. --Lynette Mong

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:38 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

The author of Stiff and Bonk explores the irresistibly strange universe of space travel and life without gravity. Space is a world devoid of the things we need to live and thrive: air, gravity, hot showers, fresh produce, privacy, beer. Space exploration is in some ways an exploration of what it means to be human. How much can a person give up? How much weirdness can they take? What happens to you when you can't walk for a year? have sex? smell flowers? What happens if you vomit in your helmet during a space walk? Is it possible for the human body to survive a bailout at 17,000 miles per hour? To answer these questions, space agencies set up all manner of quizzical and startlingly bizarre space simulations. As the author discovers, it's possible to preview space without ever leaving Earth. From the space shuttle training toilet to a crash test of NASA's new space capsule (cadaver filling in for astronaut), she takes us on a surreally entertaining trip into the science of life in space and space on Earth.… (more)

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W.W. Norton

2 editions of this book were published by W.W. Norton.

Editions: 0393068471, 0393339912

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