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Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void Hardcover – August 2, 2010

4.4 out of 5 stars 505 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“[Her] style is at its most substantial―and most hilarious―in the zero-gravity realm that Packing for Mars explores.… As startling as it is funny.” (Janet Maslin - The New York Times)

“This is the kind of smart, smirky stuff that Roach does so well.” (Geoff Nicholson - San Francisco Chronicle)

“Cool answers to questions about the void you didn’t even know you had.” (People)

“An utterly fascinating account, made all the more entertaining by the author’s ever-amused tone.” (BookPage)

“An impish and adventurous writer with a gleefully inquisitive mind and stand-up comic’s timing.” (Booklist)

“The author’s writing comes across as reportorial, but with a clear sense of humor; even the footnotes are used to both informational and comedic effect.” (Time Out New York)

“Hilarious.” (The New York Times Book Review)

“A delightful, illuminating grab bag of space-flight curiosities.” (Kirkus Reviews)

From Booklist

Roach brings intrepid curiosity, sauciness, and chutzpah to the often staid practice of popular science writing. With the human body as her endlessly intriguing subject, she not only investigates but also participates in strange goings-on behind laboratory doors. Following her wildly popular Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex (2008), Roach explores the organic aspects of the space program, such as the dangerous bane of space motion sickness and the challenges of space hygiene (the early capsules stunk to high heaven). Roach happily goes weightless on a parabolic flight on a McDonnell Douglas C-9 in a NASA zero-gravity research project, and test-drives a pressurized rover on a lunar landscape in the High Arctic. She devotes one chapter to space food and another to zero-gravity elimination, which is a serious matter, even with a term like “fecal popcorning.” An impish and adventurous writer with a gleefully inquisitive mind and a stand-up comic’s timing, Roach celebrates human ingenuity (the odder the better), and calls for us to marshal our resources, unchain our imaginations, and start packing for Mars. --Donna Seaman
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (August 2, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393068471
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393068474
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (505 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #48,870 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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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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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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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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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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