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Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void Paperback – April 4, 2011


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (April 4, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393339912
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393339918
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (376 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #116,482 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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


--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Roach (Stiff) once again proves herself the ideal guide to a parallel universe. Despite all the high-tech science that has resulted in space shuttles and moonwalks, the most crippling hurdles of cosmic travel are our most primordial human qualities: eating, going to the bathroom, having sex and bathing, and not dying in reentry. Readers learn that throwing up in a space helmet could be life-threatening, that Japanese astronaut candidates must fold a thousand origami paper cranes to test perseverance and attention to detail, and that cadavers are gaining popularity over crash dummies when studying landings. Roach's humor and determined curiosity keep the journey lively, and her profiles of former astronauts are especially telling. However, larger questions about the "worth" or potential benefits of space travel remain ostensibly unasked, effectively rendering these wild and well-researched facts to the status of trivia. Previously, Roach engaged in topics everyone could relate to. Unlike having sex or being dead, though, space travel pertains only to a few, leaving the rest of us unsure what it all amounts to. Still, the chance to float in zero gravity, even if only vicariously, can be surprising in what it reveals about us.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

More About the Author

MARY ROACH is the author of "Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers," "Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife," "Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex," and "Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void." She lives in Oakland, California.

Customer Reviews

Mary Roach's books are always an interesting and entertaining read, and this one doesn't disappoint.
Amazon Customer
I read this book in one sitting and it's safe to say that I will never look at astronauts in quite the same way again.
Piixel Pusher
There's so much I learnt from Mary Roach's book that I see astronauts and space travel in a totally different light.
Kevin Yeung

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

153 of 163 people found the following review helpful By emmejay VINE VOICE on July 31, 2010
Format: Hardcover
It seems like a previous life: the mid-1980s and NASA's program to send the first American "civilian" into space. I was interested, then sidelined when applications were restricted to teachers, then stunned by Challenger's launch disaster. But now I'm delighted to get a sort of ride-along with the clever and uber-curious Mary Roach in PACKING FOR MARS.

She begins: "To the rocket scientist, you are a problem. You are the most irritating piece of machinery he or she will ever have to deal with." And then she dives in to explore that human machinery in space and how everything -- procedures, equipment and supplies -- is designed to best serve it.

Through examples from animal simulations and crash-test cadavers, the race-for-space/ shuttle/ space-station projects, and planning Mars-length missions, she examines astronaut selection; the effects of isolation, inactivity and cramped spaces; the spectrum from weightlessness to multiple g-forces; eating, eliminating, and hygiene; and ... well, enough with the listmaking; it hints at dull and anyone who's read Roach knows she doesn't do dull. Instead, she mines excellent and surprising facts about physics and biology -- and what most captures me is her practicality, for example this from a passage about religious observations aboard the international space station: "Zero gravity and a ninety-minute orbital day created so many questions for Muslim astronauts that a [guideline] was drafted. Rather than require [them] to pray five times during each ninety-minute orbit of Earth, they were allowed to go by the twenty-four-hour cycle of the launch location." How to stay oriented toward Mecca at such speed and prostrate oneself in weightlessness are also addressed.
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71 of 76 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on August 4, 2010
Format: Hardcover
As I suspected, Mary Roach's new book is rocketing (pun intended) up the best-seller list. She has once again focused her splendid sense of humor on the weird aspects of science to reveal the most human dimensions of preparing for space exploration.

I had always been frustrated with NASA's stopping at the moon. "Let's go on to Mars," I would say. "What are you waiting for?"
Mary Roach points out that human biology, sociology, and psychology are the weak links in the chain. The engineering is in place. People are the problem. And these problems are the ones no one much talks about in polite company. What do you do with all the pee? How do you keep from hating the guy or gal next to you when they reek of B.O.? How do you remain sane for nearly two years cramped into a space the size of a small SUV, with all sun and no stars to keep you company?

Mary Roach tells us that there are people uniquely, biologically qualified for such a journey. Evidently the ideal astronaut could well be an African-American who is deaf. This would help with loss of bone density and with not tossing your cookies in space.
These are some of the strange quirks of nature she turns up, which has become her trademark. She asks the questions that few have the audacity to ask, and she asks them of people who generally would not talk, on the record, about such things. I have a feeling that the book might be beautifully accompanied by videos of the astonished faces of her interviewees, trying to cope with questions they have never had to field before.

This is a delightful read. Mary Roach will entertain you and keep you laughing out loud and she maintains your sense of wonder about space. In the end, you will want us to go to Mars more than ever because it represents a conquering of our biological limits even as we conquer our little corner of the cosmos.
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41 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Robert Busko VINE VOICE on August 4, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach is a must read for any of us that are curious about space exploration and what it would be like to live in the "void". This is my first Mary Roach book and I can already tell that I'm going to have to take a long look at her backlist, especially Stiff.

I know that most space exploration advocates have been completely frustrated by our lack of progress in colonizing space after the Apollo moon missions, especially the hold up on the trip to Mars. The issue isn't technology, as Roach points out, but the frailty of the human animal. Packing for Mars is a wake up call and a realistic look at what it would take to make that trip: food, social issues, psychological issues, and just the basic "how do you handle the lack of.....?." What does happen to a human who is deprived of familiar earth environments for a long period of time? What do you do with human waste on long trips? Do we really have to drink pee (recycled of course)? What's the impact of not being able to stand or run for more than a year? What is "fecal popcorning"? And on and on.

Packing for Mars isn't a comedy, but there are moments of absolute humor in this read.

Well researched, well written, and terribly interesting Packing for Mars is a terrific read, especially for us space program fanatics and amateur astronomers.

I highly recommend.
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32 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Red Xala on September 3, 2011
Format: Paperback
Combine equal parts of Sylvia Branzei's 'Grossology' and the Bathroom Readers' Institute's 'Uncle John's Bathroom Reader' series, make mention of something coming out of (or going into) the anus in nearly every chapter, add a thin pretext of future Mars expeditions, then glaze it over with stories of Astro-chimp masturbation and prehensile dolphin penises - Voila! - You now have an idea of what to expect from Mary Roach's 'Packing for Mars.' (Be sure to wash it all down with a nice chilled glass of charcoal filtered urine - Ms. Roach describes this beverage as "sweet...restorative and surprisingly drinkable" - Yum).

Okay...perhaps the aforementioned description of 'Packing for Mars' is hyperbolic and a little bit unfair. To her credit, Ms. Roach seems to have put forth painstaking efforts in her research (she also includes long, ancillary foot notes on almost every page of her book). Moreover, through her emails and interviews with cosmonauts, astronauts, NASA personnel, etc., she manages to coax some rather candid information about seldom discussed issues/problems associated with space travel (e.g., personal hygiene, lavatory practices, sexual activity, etc.) Parts of this book were truly insightful, and from that perspective, I say "kudos" to Ms. Roach for her efforts.

That being said, I have to honestly admit that I was relieved to finally finish the book.

In essence, 'Packing for Mars' is 16 vignette-style chapters that are, at best, tenuously linked in any cohesive fashion.
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