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152 of 162 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "To the rocket scientist, you are a problem."
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...
Published on July 31, 2010 by emmejay

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30 of 35 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars 'Packing for Uranus' would have been a more apt title
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...
Published on September 3, 2011 by Red Xala


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152 of 162 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "To the rocket scientist, you are a problem.", July 31, 2010
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.

I loved Roach's Stiff, but Spook -- not as much, so skipped Bonk (until now, maybe). She's a front-and-center kind of narrator, a participant even, and Spook seemed too much about her. Here, she's back in terrific Stiff form -- (wo)manning the audio and video for us like a TV news crew, giving just an occasional glimpse of her metaphoric microphone to remind us she's there. Though she isn't a slave to structure and linearity, there's a satisfying organization of her material into chapters here. And all of her interesting-but-off-topic segues? -- they're here too, in a hundred witty footnotes. She also references dozens of space-travel articles, histories, biographies and memoirs and lists them in a bibliography. Highly recommended.
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69 of 74 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mary Roach hits another Home Run for Weird Science, August 4, 2010
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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40 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Can man really make this trip? With a big suitcase...., August 4, 2010
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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30 of 35 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars 'Packing for Uranus' would have been a more apt title, September 3, 2011
By 
Red Xala "~23~" (L'Etoile du Nord) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void (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. I would argue that, with the exception of maybe the last portions of the book, you could jumble these chapters into any order that you pleased and it wouldn't detract from a general understanding of the material.
At times, it seems that the book's context of outer-space missions serves as mere window dressing for Ms. Roach's unabashed desire to write graphically about "taboo" bodily functions. She seems to have a particular fetish with all things associated with the anus. Without exaggeration, nearly every chapter has as least one reference to something associated with this part of the body (e.g., defecation, flatulence, stool sample storage, rectal catheters, etc.) She even briefly mentions viewing her own anus on a closed-circuit camera while testing out the Johnson Space Center positional trainer (a.k.a., the "potty cam"). However, by putting this information into the context of "space exploration," her writing is magically glossed over as being a brazen and "drolly funny" scientific endeavor rather than a crass and lowbrow collection of essays. I don't deny that some of it is interesting. However, I have a hard time believing that conservative-leaning radio talk shows such as the Twin Cities' "Garage Logic" would have been allowed to hawk this book had the scatological issues not been subsumed (albeit, at times, very minimally) into the more noble issue of space exploration. (The good ol' boys at "Garage Logic" had a great time guffawing about the part of the book mentioning astronaut turds breaking free of their confines and floating around the work areas during space missions).
In addition, for a book with the word "Mars" in the title, there really isn't much discussion about Mars at all; only toward the end of the book does Ms. Roach begin to scratch the surface about past, present, and future Mars exploration. In the end, when she's finally asking her apex question - Is it worth it to go to Mars (at a cost of $500 billion)? - she falls flat by saying "Yes, the money could be better spent on Earth. But would it? [M]oney saved by government redlining ... is always squandered. Let's squander some on Mars." She may have a point regarding government mismanagement of American tax dollars. However, I could hardly endorse the allocation of such an exorbitant amount of money based on the philosophy put forth here.
The final (and perhaps the most detracting) flaw with 'Packing for Mars' is Ms. Roach's insistence on forcing her idea of comedic one-liners into her work. Rather than "cackling like an insane person" (as A.J. Jacobs claims to have done in his praise for the book), I found myself continually rolling my eyes and audibly groaning at her cornball sense of humor. Here's a prime example taken verbatim from the book (p. 290) - ""Stool samples were...homogenized, freeze-dried, and analyzed in duplicate," wrote First Lieutenant Keith Smith in an evaluation of an aerospace diet that included beef stew and chocolate pudding. YOU HAD TO HOPE THAT LIEUTENANT SMITH KEPT HIS CONTAINERS STRAIGHT." (Emphasis added). These "cutesy" types of quips are found throughout the entire book, and eventually they become annoying. After awhile I started to imagine a 1950's sit-com laugh track being played whenever I came across one of these banal attempts at humor. It just felt too forced.

Fortunately, I picked this book up at my local library rather than buying it. Despite the aforementioned flaws, there truly are some great pieces of trivial information in this book; for that reason alone, if I ever see a copy of it at a thrift store or on a bargain bookshelf, I'll snatch it up. However, I can not recommend paying retail price for it.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining, but a bit thin, October 11, 2010
By 
John Galt (Randolph, NJ United States) - See all my reviews
Roach is a funny writer if a bit too cute at times, but the book suffers from a lack of cohesion. There are certainly some interesting aspects of space travel that you might not normally encounter in your average PBS special, but you might also be surprised at how quickly scatological humor can get old. As a fan of Malcolm Gladwell, I have come to appreciate nonfiction that is at its best when it has the hook of a truly interesting character, teasing the science out of what is ultimately a human story. Roach certainly does this as well, but she so often jumps from person to person that the impact is at times lost (ditto for an excessive use of footnotes). Even as I found the book intriguing, I think I would have preferred a more serious and comprehensive look into the future of manned spaceflight.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Wonderfully Entertaining Underside of Exoplanetary Whatever, September 15, 2010
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First, audio books are okay, as they're mobile and offer something interesting to listen to in wretched DC traffic. But there's no paper, binding, printed words. I can't highlight, or go back and re-read passages, which makes a thorough review more difficult.

A note on this audio version: The "performer" is Sandra Burr (the Bonk reader), and she does just fine. Her voice is akin to Fresh Air's Terry Gross, mature, smooth, somewhat familiar.

This book is another thoroughly enjoyable Mary Roach work, with the same diligent research, humor, inquisitiveness and hot pursuit of answers to the very common yet too-often-unasked questions that I loved in Bonk. Her humor is not snide or cutting, is sometimes a bit, ah, earthy, but is simple, straightforward, and derives often from the irony of what she is seeing, being told, or the curious and fascinating juxtapositions of facts and observations in what for her is a new world; she's not above a good doody joke.

This book really isn't about upcoming Mars missions and preparations to undertake them. There's some of that, but this is more about the less-publicized but arguably much more important aspects of space travel, the enduring challenges from the first days of space chimps and dogs. The biggest problem with space is accommodating humans. That means food, water, air, and finding ways to handle what results. It means finding ways for humans to adjust to/deal with each other for days on end when crammed into the equivalent of the front seat of a Yugo. This book is about the universe of problems in putting humans into the most anti-human environment, and then handling all of the little yet absolutely critical details: breathing, eating, excreting, staying clean, fighting boredom, preventng psychosis.

Roach has an unabashed curiosity for the more, ah, fundamental aspects of things. She's not interested in the ready-made PR line that we're all fed. Above all, Roach is a good sport, up for travel to NASA sites, the Arctic or Russia, up for trying experiments and situations herself, a willing and normal buddy who reports fully on what she's experiencing. I'd love to sit next to her on a very long plane flight.

So, you wanna be an astronaut? You'd better be ready to put up with a lot. The space agencies are watching, listening, and evaluating. Never mind their intentional little mind-games, with sneaky, roundabout evaluations, tests-within-tests, calls at 0-dark-thirty, lying about lost tests results, trying to stress you. If you don't do well with repetition and petty annoyances, then a major mission malfunction at 7 bazillion miles from Earth is really going to set you off; so goes the candidate-selection logic.

There is not a great deal of deep scientific discussion or technical language; thankfully this book does not read like Scientific American. But, Roach does provide the necessary scientific and technical background and context to set up her explorations, and thankfully she does not dumb it down, using spot-on technical and scientific terms as needed, but never in excess (and often for humor).

You get a myriad of thoroughly fascinating explorations of all things space-y, and Roach's frequent and highly entertaining footnotes, on such delightful subjects as: the importance of vaginal contraction for lifelong health; urine collection in zero-g; cadaver use in impact studies; space farts, and whether a good one might actually propel you in zero-g; how to treat with respect and dignity the various remains of a trailblazing, national-hero space chimp; the coefficient of flatus; mess hall pork and sub-optimal animal research outcomes; space-chimp Enis the Penis, and the quest to find out if he was a stinker or a wanker; fecal papier-mâché'; getting your whosis all lined up--on camera--on the space toilet simulator; food tubes/cubes/bricks/bars/blocks/rods; the unpleasant choice of slow suffocation in a space suit or a cyanide capsule if you can't get back through the hatch; helmet vomitus; why gravity is your urethra's friend; human skin oil secretion and its role in underwear decomposition; egesta; bear hibernation bloodborne calcium regeneration; the "bursting" of a body in the vacuum of space; human body reactions to and actions in zero-G, and in lots of Gs; a BAMF; the corned beef sandwich incident; an exploration of the suffix "-naut," and lots more.

And yes, Ms. Roach drinks her own urine, and pronounces it a nicely sweet and restorative lunchtime beverage.

And never forget this sage advice: "...anal leakage is not your pal."

Chapter 12 probes sex in space and/or zero gravity, and determining whether this actually has taken place yet. The Mary Roach who got it so right in Bonk is all over this investigation, asking prickly questions of aerospace professionals who either have been sworn to secrecy or are just being prudent. Roach tracks the issue relentlessly, even chasing down a retired Czech porn actress to discuss her reported earth-shattering contribution to aerospace exploration. Roach chases this expertly, and in the end offers a few clear answers, but no definitive answer to the central question.

The language is salty at times, with a couple f-bombs (nevertheless thoroughly in keeping with context). There is some quoted profanity, and a bit provided by Roach herself, a nice accessible, earthy touch. This being said, it's really pretty tame. Age-wise, this is acceptable reading for a well-read, mature 13-year-old, although some of Roach's jokes will go right over said reader's young head.

Bottom line: the unbridled curiosity, intellectual rigor, conscientious research and entertaining humor that made Spook, Stiff and Bonk such successes is fully present here. Roach has crafted a wonderful, highly entertaining and informative book that blows out of the water, uh, explosively decompresses almost every science fiction film ever made, and sucks almost all of the glamour and some of the glory out of space exploration faster than a defective airlock. Until they perfect warp drives and localized gravity generators, I'll stay down here, where I'm in control.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 100% educational, 100% entertaining and 100% hilarious!, September 15, 2010
By 
Paul Weiss (Dundas, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
The ability to land a spacecraft on Mars is old hat. As a matter of fact, the technology, although it was and remains prohibitively expensive, existed over thirty years ago. The real impediment, indeed, the only impediment to manned space travel to Mars is man himself.

In PACKING FOR MARS, an inexhaustibly curious, incorrigibly irreverent and perennially humorous Mary Roach explores the myriad issues and problems that the biological package known as "man" presents to space travel. It is no exaggeration to suggest that preparation for long term survival in low gravity and extended confinement in extremely close quarters touches on virtually every aspect of man's life - biology, culture, morality, sexuality, psychology, politics, leisure, health, hygiene and even religious practice.

Although the scientific content of PACKING FOR MARS is 100% real and informative, Mary Roach's approach to the topic is light-hearted and, from cover to cover, tongue in cheek and 100% hilarious and utterly entertaining. With the practical problems of zero-gravity defecation and the logistical problem of what to do with the results of any successful elimination being very near the top of the list of engineering conundrums, it's probably not a big surprise to let a potential reader know that scatological humour runs rampant throughout the book. Tears of laughter positively streamed from my eyes as I learned, for example, that the gas volume and the speed of expulsion of even the most flatulent person conceivable would not be sufficient to propel him or her across the room in a zero-gravity situation (Note to self - watch for a potential future MYTHBUSTERS episode!)

PACKING FOR MARS ends with the acknowledgement that pure research on Mars is probably best conducted by robots, computers and pure hardware technology without benefit of man's presence. But, she also pleads the case that, since governments are so prone to fritter away vast sums of money on unproductive and entirely wasteful projects anyway, perhaps it may actually be prudent to plan some frivolous spending on a manned Mars landing. After all, you never know what may come of it!

PACKING FOR MARS is highly recommended with the comment that, aside from being thoroughly entertaining and wonderfully educational, it undoubtedly makes my Top 10 list of the funniest books I've ever read. How can you go wrong with a combination like that?

Paul Weiss
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining, August 11, 2011
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Despite its title, there is very little in this book about preparing for a trip to Mars; instead, the book is mostly a collection of anecdotes and past experiences related to space programs and space exploration. The book is informative, stories are interesting and some of them will even make you laugh (poo in space, anyone?), but this book can only be recommended to readers interested in light science with a sense of humour.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Read All About - Deficate In Space, October 17, 2010
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Bowel movements, copulation, personal hygiene, manufactured food, crushing accidents, regurgitation, and motion sickness are your idea of a fabulous book; you will love Packing For Mars. This book is less a discussion about reaching Mars, but a look back at space exploration history.

On so many levels this book audio book did not work for me. I was expecting a very direct discussion of travelling to Mars. Instead I was treated to NASA history as understood by Mary Roach.

This is a review of the audio CD version of Packing For Mars. The voice talent, Sandra Burr, is apparently a very popular and accomplished reader for Brilliance Audio. I found her delivery to be just south of annoying. After spending nine hours with Ms. Burr, I can say, I'd rather not listen to her read another book to me. Ms. Burr changed her voice whenever she was reading a quotation, same tone for male or female. If there hadn't been so many quotations in the book, this might have worked out. Instead, the book has a fairly large number of quotes, so I got to hear a lot of Ms. Burr's put on fake voice.

There was an incredibly annoying bit to this recording, the producers insisted on including the footnotes during the reading. The story would move along and then all of a sudden pause with Ms. Burr saying, "Note", then reading the footnote text, and then closing with "end note." If there were only a few of these footnotes, or they were short, that would have worked well. Instead, there were notes every few minutes, and some nattered on for a very long time. The most annoying part of the footnotes was the author's snarky nasty attempts at humor in these notes. Frequently, Ms. Roach missed the point of her particular note and goes off on a tangent that I did not care for.

From a purely audio and performance standpoint, this is not a pleasant audio book.

In some regard the performance could be excused if the book was outstanding. Sadly, this book just didn't work at all for me. I did not like it at all. This is not really a book that discusses how we may or may not get to Mars, the difficulties associated with that trip, or how we might actually make that trip. Instead it is a book about space exploration history as interpreted by Mary Roach.

The author presents this story with definitive authority, as if she is presenting perfectly researched facts that are immutable. Some of the tales told are extreme, especially in the first few chapters. At some point I wondered, how much of this is fact, how much is fiction, and how much is Mary Roach embellishing for dramatic effect? She does a decent job describing the source material for her facts or quotations. At some point, I had to start believing that she had her facts straight and this was an accurate retelling, until she arrived at the discussion of Tang. This may seem simple, a non-fact that could be overlooked, if Mary Roach didn't present herself as an absolute expert in these topics and telling the reader truth. The problem is Mary Roach credits Kraft Foods with developing Tang. Oh, that is accurate if you do a simple web search and don't look further. In fact Kraft had nothing to do with Tang; it was General Foods that developed that product. At this moment I started listening more carefully to what she wrote, and started to think more critically about her statements. What else wasn't researched definitively? As I listened, more and more of the story unraveled, and Mary Roach lost my confidence in her presentation of researched "facts." There were just way too many conclusions to threads of thought where somebody stopped responding to her emails, or her internet search went cold. Fact checking just seems to be such a critical thing in a story where the author presents herself as an expert, and I see this as a failing in this book.

There was an annoying amount of jargon tossed around for no particular reason. The author spends a long time defining certain words or concepts, but then doesn't use those terms or uses some other bit of jargon with no definition. There is a lot of extraneous matter in this book, tangents that don't advance the story and are not very interesting. The book had a sing song effect with the constant change of point of view, from first person, to third person, and back. In skilled hands this can work well, sadly I felt like I was on a rollercoaster ride that would never end.

There is a fair amount of strong language in this book. The language pops up in the strangest places, almost without warning. There is only one chapter that is offensive, not in the subject matter, but the way that Mary Roach tells the story. The chapter is where Mary insists on repeating the word come shot over and over (she uses the other spelling for ejaculation), and her quest for finding Sylvia Saint to speak with her directly about a weightless copulation scene in a movie. I was treated to about twenty minutes of Ms. Roach bumbling her way through the adult film world (of which she really has no clue) and finally proving that the scene was never shot in zero gravity. Twenty minutes of very poorly researched material and her prudish description of a pornographic film and how she used the fast forward button. The snotty footnote remark, Sylvia Saint is now thirty years old, made hundreds of adult films (she gives a few titles), and is now retired from the film industry, she deserves to be retired after all that work.

There is an odd omission from the book, I do not recall Robert Zubrin, The Mars Society, being mentioned. On a book about going to Mars, it would seem logical that this group would at least be mentioned someplace, if not be a cornerstone of the discussion. The conclusion of the book was hurried. Ms. Roach's premise is that we are a society of simulators, we don't go out and play anymore, and that we should just go to Mars for the adventure and curiosity. On the subject of cost, she claims the government squanders any money that might be saved by not going to Mars, so why not spend it anyway. The conclusions are odd and out of left field. I find the simulation piece particularly intriguing since about half of the book was written based on emails and internet research. Yes she did fly on the vomit comet, personally interviewed many of the people in the story, and did some tours of key NASA locations. But yet she sat behind her computer and collected so many of her resources from email or internet - where's the getting outdoors and doing?
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lets Go To Mars, August 14, 2010
By 
zl21 (California) - See all my reviews
Packing For Mars is the first book by Mary Roach that I've read, but it won't be the last. I judged it by the cover and I'm glad I did. It's rare to find a book that's interesting and educational, and at the same time really funny. This book is that and more.

The truth is usually stranger than fiction, and the story of our reach for the stars is no exception. Humans are not designed to live and work in outer space and the challenges that this presents are numerous. Packing For Mars goes behind the scenes of space exploration to meet the people who make it possible.

You can tell Mrs. Roach did her homework. She talks with everyone from the astronauts to the guy who designs the space toilets. She goes to the training facilities and test labs to see what types of crazy and amazing things people are doing for science. She also uncovers lots of the little noted but fascinating details.

It's a great story but what makes Packing For Mars even better is that it's so funny. Mrs. Roach has a terrific sense of humor and this book will make you laugh, out loud, many times.
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Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void
Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach (Paperback - April 4, 2011)
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