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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

Written by Mary Roach

Narrated by Sandra Burr


Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void

Written by Mary Roach

Narrated by Sandra Burr

ratings:
4/5 (179 ratings)
Length:
10 hours
Released:
Aug 2, 2010
ISBN:
9781441876669
Format:
Audiobook

Editor's Note

Funny on the final frontier…

What happens when you can’t stop laughing in space? Roach will find out for you as she studies how all the human bodily functions (particularly the gross ones) continue to work in space flight. The answers are out of this world.

Description

Space is a world devoid of the things we need to live and thrive: air, gravity, hot showers, fresh produce, privacy, beer. Space exploration is in some ways an exploration of what it means to be human. How much can a person give up? How much weirdness can they take? What happens to you when you can't walk for a year? have sex? smell flowers? What happens if you vomit in your helmet during a spacewalk? Is it possible for the human body to survive a bailout from space? To answer these questions, space agencies set up all manner of quizzical and startlingly bizarre space simulations. As Mary Roach discovers, it's possible to preview space without ever leaving Earth. From the Space Shuttle training toilet to a crash test of NASA's new space capsule (cadaver filling in for astronaut), Roach takes us on a surreally entertaining trip into the science of life in space and space on Earth.
Released:
Aug 2, 2010
ISBN:
9781441876669
Format:
Audiobook

About the author

Mary Roach is the bestselling author of Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, Six Feet Over: Adventures in the Afterlife, Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, and Packing for Mars (978-1-85168-823-4). She has written for the Guardian, Wired, BBC Focus, GQ, and Vogue, among many others.


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4.2
179 ratings / 158 Reviews
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Critic reviews

  • What happens when you can't stop laughing in space? Roach will find out for you as she studies how all the human bodily functions (particularly the gross ones) continue to work in space flight. The answers are out of this world.

    Scribd Editors
  • You've given your two-week notice, your friends and family are on board, and you are ready to move to Mars. What should you bring with you? This witty, fascinating look at the more mundane things astronauts encounter in outer space will help you prepare on your journey to a new planet.

    Scribd Editors

Reader reviews

  • (4/5)
    In Mary Roach’s usual style, she takes a humourous look at NASA and space travel in this one, looking at some of the things that most of us just don’t think about when it comes to travelling in zero-gravity. She looks at using the “toilet”, eating, sex, throwing up, hygiene, and more. This did, of course, include some history of space travel, as well. I hadn’t even realized when I started reading it a few days ago that the 50th anniversary of the walk on the moon was yesterday, while I was in the middle reading this – good timing for me! In the first chapter, it was interesting to read about how they made the flag “fly” (with no gravity!) on the moon, and also how to even pack it to bring with them, with the limited space available. There was one real transcript of three astronauts having a discussion when one of them noticed a “turd” flying in the air – omg, I couldn’t stop laughing and crying reading that transcript! Kept me from continuing to read for at least 5 minutes, if not more!! This, and “Stiff” are my favourites of the ones I’ve read by her so far.
  • (4/5)
    I deeply envy those not claustrophobic or clumsy or tall...they can aspire to astronautcy, where I for reasons here presented, cannot. Fatness, it seems, was once mooted by a NASA consultant, as a desideratum...20 kilos of fat = 184,000 calories! Why send food up? Fat folks can do a little slimming and science at the same time!Leaving aside the Donner-Party-in-Space horrors of the clueless and thin, Mary Roach's delight of a book is packed with interesting and surprising research, her own and others's. I can't imagine *how* anyone came up with zero-gravity toilet research subjects. Filming you at this well, ummm, intimate moment of activity? Discovering thereby that uhhhh curls form in zero G? *shudder*And Roach, as readers of previous books (Bonk, Spook) know, is irreverent to the point of being a female frat boy about every-damn-thing, and completely unafraid to deploy wit and sarcasm at the drop of a...cheese curl. She's funny, she's curious, she's smart, and damn it all, she's married.So she marshals a raft of facts in her quest to know, and impart to us, necessary background information and bizarre little side-trails of information about the quest of the US and (now) Russian governments to put and keep humans in space. Each chapter tackles different specialties in the space race: food, water, safe arrival and departure, etc. etc. Her completely unserious side is always on display, and makes what would otherwise be a government briefing document (anyone who has ever read a government briefing document will attest that there is no reading matter more effective in inducing short-term coma) into a sparkling, sprightly tour of a quixotic, hugely expensive boondoggle.At the end of this particular garden path that Mary's leading us down is a manned mission to Mars. She asks baldly, "Is Mars worth it?" All the money...half a trillion bucks!...all the risk, all the inevitable bureaucratic wrangling.Benjamin Franklin said it best: Asked what use the first manned balloon flights were, Franklin replied, "What use is a new-born baby?"Exactly.
  • (5/5)
    The book has very little about Mars. It covers aspects of the Space program that we don't hear about. I have a new respect for those people who have been a part of the program, not only astronauts, but people who volunteer to undergo trials to get the data needed to develop what is needed for those astronauts. Parts of the book are pretty unsavory. The presentation of the information has quite a lot of humor as well. The author did a lot of hands on research such as taking a trip up for a parabolic flight sequence to try out Zero G. She talked to some very interesting folks and found transcriptions of some rather fun astronaut dialog. I suppose there is an emphasis on some pretty gross stuff, but my opinion is that this book is first rate. It is well researched, interesting, enlightening, and for me it was a new perspective on the topic. This is not just a scientific endeavor. This is a human endeavor. It does make me wonder if humans really should push through what it would take to go to Mars. If they had to do it under the conditions of the first astronauts, it would be insanity. It will not be easy to do and it will not be easy on those who do it. This is an extreme sport, I guess I'd say.
  • (4/5)
    From my Cannonball Read V review...

    This is my second Mary Roach book of this Cannonball read, and the fact that it popped into my queue right now is perfect, because Gravity is out and I cannot wait to see it.

    I was excited to read this because when I was a kid I wanted to be an astronaut. Not enough to get into the physics and astronomy track in college, or enlist in the air force, or really do anything to actively pursue that career path, but enough that to this day I still think that if I win the lottery I plan to squirrel away a chunk of the change to pay my way into space (after donating the vast majority of it to charity, of course.)

    The premise is not just exploring space travel, but specifically extended space travel. Ms. Roach does a great job of weaving in the history of space travel through specific areas from eating space food to … eliminating said food. There are so many wonderful facts, great footnotes and just fun stories. She gets to ride the vomit comet (i.e. the parabolic flight), interview groundbreaking (atmosphere-busting?) astronauts, scientists and others.

    The book is especially interesting because it doesn’t sugar-coat anything about space travel. I didn’t realize, for example, that some of the early space flights involved two dudes hanging out in a capsule for two weeks, no ability to wash or really take care of any personal hygiene needs. Or how much fecal matter can end up floating around in the space shuttle, and how much research and development had to go into creating a toilet, or how much effort goes into creating food that allows for a little more time between … evacuations.

    Along the way of telling the story of all the challenges that are increased on a long space trip, Ms. Roach drops great little bits of knowledge. For example, she explains how the flag on the moon looked like it was blowing in the wind even though there isn’t wind on the moon, and talks about why people get motion sickness. There are so many awesome nuggets that it’s worth it for anyone who is into trivia.

    You know the drill. It’s Mary Roach. It’s good. You’ll probably like it. Add it to the list.
  • (3/5)
    This book isn't at all what I thought it would be based on the review that I read of it. I had thought the author had gone through a space camp or something similar and would be providing a first person experience. Instead, she has done extensive research on the space program and has distilled what she learned into a fairly easy to read format.
  • (4/5)
    3.5/5 stars.

    I listened to this one on audio. It was an interesting read, and Mary Roach really does explore a lot on what really needs to happen to send people to space. The narrator was quite good and I enjoyed listening to her. Each chapter explored a new aspect to the logistics of sending humans to space, and ties in previous chapters as you go. From food, to going to the bathroom, to sweating, you get to explore the science and research behind this. Fun, interesting read.
  • (5/5)
    Mary Roach is a delight. Her writing is full of humor without trivializing her subject matter. She's willing to ask, and doggedly pursue, the questions that we all wonder and are too polite to ask (the chapter on pooping in space is a masterpiece).The title is a misnomer - I was expecting this to be a theoretical exploration of what it would take to get humans to Mars. Instead, it is an examination of the historical and current state of space travel technology: the psychology of space travel, and all the dirty little details of what it is like to be a biological organism in a small container in the vacuum of space. At first I was disappointed by this, but once I re-framed my expectations, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. Reading space opera will never be the same.
  • (3/5)
    I never really thought about some of the details that have to be taken into consideration for space travel. Possibly we as a society are taken with Star Trek and Star Wars and don't really think about the early beginnings of space travel.The details related in the book ranged from food development (soup wouldn't work, worrying about crumbs that might float into the mechanisms), sex for long trips (Mars and beyond, weightlessness for sex), recycling urine for water, bone and body reactions, and even Bowel movements and body odors.The way that it was presented was informative and entertaining.Very thought-provoking.
  • (5/5)
    This is the second book I've read by author Mary Roach. I don't look for dumbing-down in my non-fiction selections, but she has a way of discussing the serious aspects of a topic with a certain verve; a twist of tongue that litters her prose with bits of welcome laughter. I'm hooked, again. After the Apollo missions, NASA's focus turned to experimentation in place of exploration. She explains that everything NASA does is essentially preparation for the next bigger mission they choose. As part of her research, Mary Roach even "applied to be a subject in a simulated Mars mission". She was part of an expedition visiting Devon Island, using NASA's latest rover prototypes. She describes these as looking like "a futuristic camper van". She explains to readers the mental and emotional rigors of space travel and the extensive testing that precedes all excursions. Did you know that the forces of gravity, whether from traditional gravity, or centrifugal force, can cause extreme stress or even separation of the brain from the spinal cord? NASA takes every aspect of space exploration seriously. She explains that astronauts do not only deal with dietary sacrifice, they also face a change to their very being. Walking around is taken for granted. Weightlessness changes everything. Astronauts are faced with ortho static hypotension because of the lack of gravity. This is an aspect of a disorder that our family deals with on a daily basis, so it was interesting for me to read about. Joints that don't receive enough of the normal stress we experience from the simplest activities on earth, show sometimes great amounts of bone loss upon return to Earth. One natural physical activity that is craved by every human being is about the only thing that hasn't been explicitly experimented with on outer space missions; sex. Oh, there's lots of talk, lots of wondering... NASA has not yet found appropriate parameters within which they can approach this topic. Mary explains the sensible reasons behind this. She even goes on her own mission and determines that the only pornographic film to claim that it was filmed in zero gravity indeed was not. Pregnancy and childbirth are lofty ideas when it comes to space exploration. Russia once sent a "mischief" of rats into space, keeping the males and females separated until they were launched. After that, the rays were given open access and allowed to freely mate. Upon their return to Earth, some of the females exhibited signs of conception, but none were pregnant. April Ronca is quoted in relation to this, "Maybe the placenta can't form. Maybe the uterus can't have proper implantation. Any step along the way could be compromised by zero gravity in ways that we haven't foreseen. We know nothing."Mary calls our attention the fact that many of the items we use on a regular basis has their origins in the space program. "If it's cordless, fireproof, lightweight, and strong, miniaturized, or automated, chances are food NASA has had a hand in the technology. We are talking trash compactors, bulletproof vests, high-speed wireless data transfer, implantable heart monitors, cordless power tools, artificial limbs, dustbiswrs, sports bras, computerized insulin pumps, fire-fighters' masks."Space travel holds me in awe. Did you know that "up through Apollo 11, every mission included a major NASA first?" Those days are not all behind us; in fact, it is expected that we will send a few select people to Mars by the year 2030. Isn't that incredible? People sometimes question why we bother with further exploration of the universe. I believe it is the loftiest endeavor ahead of us and that we must continue to take each next step, to expand our knowledge of ourselves and of other worlds. Mary quotes Benjamin Franklin, and I'll close with that, "I defer to the sentiments of Benjamin Franklin. Upon the occasion of history's first manned flights-in the 1780s, about the Montgolfier brothers' hot-air balloons-someone asked Franklin what use he saw in such frivolity. "What use," he replied, "is a newborn baby?" Think on that.
  • (5/5)
    Mary Roach makes every subject interesting, and space travel is no exception. In this book, she describes all of the challenges that come with traveling in outer space, especially with a destination as far away as Mars. Roach doesn't shy away from any details. She covers how astronauts eat and take care of other personal needs. If you like knowing obscure facts about a range of subjects, you will enjoy Mary Roach.
  • (3/5)
    Mostly good; a bit dry at times. Great few chapters on excretory functions in space.
  • (4/5)
    This is the first book by Mary Roach that I've read, and she's just jumped to the top of my list of Authors Who Make Me Laugh Out Loud (a list I wish were longer, but one I'm always glad to add to). Despite the title, _Packing for Mars_ is less a high-tech, hard-core-science look at the US space program than it is an exploration of what happens when we have to rely on human beings in all their messy imperfection to operate high-tech, hard-core-science machines. Ever wonder how astronauts learn to poop in space? Curious about the exact number of days, post-bathing, when the human body reaches its maximum level of stinkiness? Or maybe you just wonder whether Tang and Space Sticks ever actually were part of a spaceman's well-balanced diet (children of the 1970s, I know you know what I'm talking about). My friend, all those answers and more--so much more!--can be found here. Seriously, SO FUNNY.
  • (5/5)
    A fascinating read about the more prosaic problems of going into outer space for prolonged lengths of time. There is actually very little in this book about Mars, but there is a lot about how the American space program figured out the answers to some of the human problems posed by space travel.She started with animals, and how early experiments used them. The first dog in space, Laika, was put into orbit by the Soviet Union, without a plan to bring her back. We brought the chimps, Ham and Enos, back, and when they eventually passed away, they were buried in New Mexico. There is talk about simulating zero gravity with parabolic orbits, testing crash landings, testing "bailout" parachutes (remember the Red Bull-sponsored high dive from space?), even an explanation of the Roswell "alien ship". There is also enough talk of food and its results (potty-cam, anyone?) to satisfy any adolescent curiosity. It was a fun read, with fascinating details supported by interviews with people who lived through the experiences.
  • (5/5)
    So, disclaimer up front, I love Mary Roach. I have all of her books. If I hadn't won this as an ARC from Early Reviewers I would have pre-ordered it from Amazon. If you are looking for a really critical eye that can deeply examine her flaws, you will not find that here.That said, I am trying to give a proper review that is not just "SPACE!" and "MARY ROACH!" and "OMG! ASTRONAUTS!" because I spent a good fourteen years of my life wanting to be an astronaut (or possibly a paleontologist), in the keeping pamphlets on NASA careers under my mattress, attending space camp, standing in line for autographed photos of astronauts sort of way. In other words, this book hit all of my buttons. Mainly, in this book, Mary talks about the seemingly little things that we have to contend with when taking people (and animals and things) into space. This book is not rocket science. It's science about how to eat or drink or pee in space. How to get along with people for long periods in tight quarters, and how to how to deal with accidents. There is a history of the space program woven, non-chronologically, into the chapters. As with all of her books, it's more of a light-hearted giant appetizer plate of interesting tidbits from the topic at hand than a serious meat-and-potatoes tome. For all of her fascination with crazy experiments and weird technology, she is more interested in people and the stories they can tell.There is even more weird space related stuff out there than is in this book. (For instance, there are people who's job it is to smell everything that will go aboard the shuttle, to make sure they don't stink the place up.) But this is a good place to start. If you like humorous non-fiction, or space travel, or are interested in finding out if you might like either one, this is a great book to get. And it'll give you plenty of interesting anecdotes to amuse people with at parties.
  • (5/5)
    As much as I've enjoyed Mary Roach's previous books, PACKING FOR MARS beats them all when it comes to leading me giggling down a road that would otherwise be left untraveled. Sex and death are fairly human preoccupations, but I had never been caught up in the drama and grandure of the space race. Until PACKING FOR MARS came my way. I shared this book with my husband during the reading process, our bookmarks leap frogging back and forth past each other. Half of the fun was reading (or hearing) each other's favorite passages. It's hard to pick just a few. I can't speek for anyone with an established love of space travel, though my gut instinct is that many of the subjects described so entertainingly in this book may be things you already know to a much greater level of dry detail, but for the casual space tourist, this book is a guaranteed passport to entertainment.
  • (3/5)
    I really like Mary Roach's humorous perspectives on science, but at times the poop and fart jokes in this one seemed a bit much. Worth reading because, like all her previous books, this one is loaded with interesting information. It ends with a surprising, sincere and persuasive argument for boldly going where no human has gone before.
  • (3/5)
    Roach discusses the little and the big things that make life in space a challenge - nice mixture of facts and funny ancedotes
  • (2/5)
    I really liked Roach's previous books, and I expected to love this one. I didn't love it, though it was engaging. Roach's tone in this one was a little too arch and it was a little tiresome to my ear. The other drawback for me is that I already knew a fair bit of the information presented here- and much of the material that was new to me was not the sort of thing I'm interested in.
  • (5/5)
    Laughed my bags off, and learned some pretty intriguing things. Completely recommend to anyone.
  • (4/5)
    Fun, fascinating, informative, and frequently hilarious. The chapter on the considerable challenges of crapping and peeing in zero gravity are particularly funny.
  • (5/5)
    Putting humans in space is far more challenging than I expected. The problems are solvable as this book shows, but you must be absolutely honest about human needs in weightlessness. Things like going to the bathroom and what to eat. Not to mention the health effects of radiation and zero-G. An excellent book.
  • (4/5)
    I enjoyed the author's writing style, esp. the flow of the chapters through the book. I also do NOT ever want to go into space unless it is the absolute last resort to something catastrophic. If you read this excellent book you will understand why.
  • (4/5)
    Very interesting look at the day-to-day lives of astronauts and the challenges of designing things that enable humans to go up in space.
  • (5/5)
    Space. The final frontier. To boldly go where no man has gone before. I have always dreamed of going into space since I was very young. To explore the Moon and the Solar System and one day the universe.

    Well dreams of youth tend towards folly and none moreso than this one. I could never be an astronaut but that doesn't stop me from having a love of all things space. But it was with a touch of trepidation that I picked this book up. The previous Mary Roach books I've read have not been the best books. She didn't really approach her subjects in quite the right way.

    Thankfully here she really hits her stride. I loved this book from start to finish. The right mix of humour and science. I wish all her books were written this well. I loved that she looked at a side of space exploration rarely touched on. The actual humanity behind it not just the technical science. This was a great book and I'd recommend it to anyone who wants to know more behind-the-scenes views of humanity in space.
  • (3/5)
    This is the third of Roach's books that I have read, and while I found it fascinating and interesting, I probably liked it the least of the three.

    I love Roach's doggedness in chasing down every fact, rumor, or story that she's heard. She is unabashed and asks questions that most of us would be embarrassed to ask, to some amazing men and women astronauts, and it makes the book really interesting and fun.

    She leads you into the minutiae of every detail and all of the difficulties of doing everything in space, and what NASA and other space agencies have had to do to research and hone each part, minute, and mission.

    I think my favorite parts were about the animals used to research potential space phenomena, physiology, and other biological intricacies.

    And I do love that Roach is a natural scientist. She questions everything. Everything. How do you live, sweat, eat, drink, sleep, have sex, poop, fart, not die on re-entry. Everything. Things that other people wouldn't think to question (oh? exercise is damage and damage causes bones to be stronger? why don't we punch the legs/hips of the elderly to build up bone so they don't break hips? why was this monkey a national hero, and this one forgotten about? etc.)

    She chases down every rumor, every paper, every remotely questionable "fact" and it makes for an interesting book. The humor isn't quite up to what I expected (or enjoyed, especially in Stiff). I found this book enjoyable, just not quite as enjoyable as the rest of the ones I've read.
  • (4/5)
    There's a scene in Ramona the Pest in which Ramona disrupts her kindergarten class by asking the teacher where Mike Mulligan goes to the bathroom.

    I suspect Mary Roach was a child much like Ramona.

    In the past she's been curious about cadavers, about the soul, about sex. Now she's curious about space, and we are again the beneficiaries of her quirky research.

    The audio is narrated by a woman with a generic midwestern accent, just enough to be noticeable.
  • (4/5)
    Packing for Mars was just about perfect for Mary Roach's style, which is digressive, naive, scatterbrained, and occasionally adorable. She goes into a number of topics related to the difficulties of manned space flight (although she seems to prefer the gross ones) and winkles both charming confidences and telling no-comments out of any number of relevant professionals. It's a quick read, with plenty of interesting factoids, and written in a conversational style that moves it along even when NASA isn't talking.

    I will say that I am extremely skeptical of anything remotely resembling science in her books in general, though. She is a self-admitted non-scientist, and does things like cite papers the authors of which she can't recall because she lost the first page. This is mainstream fluff, not serious reporting, and as long as you take it at that level it's decent entertainment.
  • (4/5)
    Often hilarious, but fact packed account of Mary Roach's research into just what is involved in space travel and living.A few quotes by Astronaut Mike Mullane had me in stitches.
  • (5/5)
    Interesting, entertaining, and often very funny look at the dirtier and less glamorous side of NASA and space travel. Recommended if you have any interest in either.
  • (5/5)
    I really enjoy Mary Roach's approach to science writing. She's smart, witty, and engaging. She takes her subject matter seriously when it comes to passing information, but she is also astute enough to know how to make just about anything entertaining. Packing for Mars is maybe a bit drier than the other three books she's written, and (IMNTBHO)that is due to the fact that this is the first time her title has consisted of more than one word. If you don't like reading non-fiction, try one of Mary Roach's books. Science-writing can inform you and entertain you at the same time - and Ms. Roach is good at it.