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Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void Hardcover – August 2, 2010
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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
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.
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Top Customer Reviews
Space travel has always fascinated me and the idea of moving to Mars permanently, so I was especially excited about this book.
I love this book - but if she decided to write about mouse droppings, car parts, or the history of nails, I would grab those books too.
Roach certainly did her homework - she snags a ride on the “vomit comet” to experience zero-G first hand, and travels to remote outposts to see how astronauts might live on Mars. The book is carefully researched, and she frequently peppers the text with amusing footnotes and details she discovered along the way. It’s a good read if you’re not squeamish.
A note about the audio edition: Roach is a talented public speaker, so it's really unfortunate she doesn’t read her own book. The “narrator’s” harsh, school-marm voice unfortunately drains much of the humor and wit from Roach’s text. I also wish the audio book came packaged on an MP3 disk. I had to manually rip and copy onto one myself, because "stop to change the disk" doesn't work while you're driving.
I felt misled by this book's title. Only the last chapter was about Mars. The rest was a history of the early space program and near-Earth and lunar missions. While it was interesting in parts, I was looking for an in depth factual accounting of the challenges of putting humans onto the Martian surface to test survival technologies for exploration and eventual colonization. Something along the lines of the movie "The Martian." Disappointing.