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Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void Paperback – April 4, 2011
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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
--This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Roach explores the quotidian aspects of space travel for humans with her usual aplomb. She reveals the everyday concerns and aspects--physiological, psychological, and emotional--of long-term space immersion. Sandra Burr proves a great complement to Roach's prose. Her character voices are distinct, and she executes the jargon and technical aspects of space life with a clear and emphatic tone, helping listeners with more complicated passages. She has a matter-of-fact tone with a hint of a wry smile when she explains, say, sex in space, and she is unfailingly clear and affable. A Norton hardcover. (Aug.) (c)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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I bought the book after having read The Martian and watched the movie and thought Ms. Roach would provide additional information or background knowledge. Practically zero. At least the German title of the book is somewhat truer to the content of the book: Was macht der Astronaut, wenn er mal muss? (What does an astronaut when he has to go to the loo?). But even then, it is full of tangential story telling of totally irrelevant stuff. She reaches rock bottom when she writes about sex in space and offers a rather lengthy description of a fake Russian porn clip pretending to show sex in zero gravity.
What is also annoying is the constant use of imperial measures without metric conversions. Even NASA uses metric, and any book with the term science in the title or the sub title should in my view be metric or at least offer metric conversions.
As for the book itself, I really enjoyed it. I rarely read non-fiction but went through this one in two days. There's a lot of really interesting detail, some of which I highlighted to use as a jumping off point for further reading. It's not a book to read when eating, however, since some of the details get a bit gross. Still, it answers a lot of questions about things people rarely to never talk about when it comes to space travel. And also includes a lot of interesting history.
The Kindle edition is excellently done. There is an active TOC, with chapter marks on the progress bar to allow quick flipping back and forth using the 5-way. The footnotes are all active links so you can maneuver the cursor to them, click to read the footnote, then use the Back button to return to where you left off reading. There is an image at the start of each chapter and they display decently, though not great.
For example, does hygiene become an issue when two men are in a very tightly confined area for two weeks, wearing a space suit, without the ability to bathe? How are liquid and solid wastes captured and recycled or disposed of in a space flight? Sex in space? Motion sickness and the implications of regurgitating in a space helmet. The physics of a reentering space shuttle disintegrating at a speed of Mach 17. These questions and many others are covered in this whimsical little work. Good for about six hours of entertainment, this will not win any literary awards, but if you have a sense of humor and a morbid curiosity, you'll find this a worthwhile read.
The book is not about Mars. I kept wondering when we were going to get to Mars. A few chapters in it hit me, the title is just a metaphor for what needs to be done to get into space. And boy do we find out. The author spent hours pouring through old flight transcripts, interviewing astronauts and NASA personnel and even going for a ride into weightlessness on the Vomit Comet, a low orbital flight that provides a nearly weightless environment in which to train astronauts and conduct research. The result is a hilarious look at the training and research for space travel. She asks the questions that you want to know the answers to but won't find in any Science magazine or NASA publication.
Each chapter explores a different aspect of planning for space going back to the earliest mission through today on the International Space Station. Want to know how that space station toilet works and how they designed and tested it? Ummm, the training toilet has a camera in it. And bathroom breaks need to be scheduled because there's no gravity and therefore no urge! And what did they do for a toilet on the Apollo and earlier missions and how bad did that space capsule smell after two weeks? Is it possible to have sex in space? Which foods can be brought on board and why are crumbs bad?
It's not all bathroom jokes, there are also serious topics such as how astronauts are chosen for the program, a discussion of the psychological studies on long periods of isolation and the effects of weightlessness on the health of the astronauts. She also relates some strange but true stories and debunks a few well know myths.
Interesting, informative and laugh-out-loud funny this is a book I highly recommend.