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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void » User review

Not the triumphs and the tragedies, but the stuff in between

  • Aug 28, 2010
Author Mary Roach has an in-your-face take on science. Her first three books went where not many science writers dare to go; Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (2003), Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife (2005), and Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex (2008). Now she entertains us with Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void

There's no overdose of astrophysics here, but plenty of pragmatic picking over the little things that are the reality of space flight. Weightlessness? Mary takes a spin on the "Vomit Comet", a NASA training plane that flies in parabolas to create weightlessness; high on the lack of gravity and on Scop/Dex (a scopolamine-amphetamine cocktail to stave off nausea), she finds it a hilarious experience. But what does it do to the human body? Can you drink beer in space? (no--the bubbles just lump in the middle). How much exercise will keep bone loss under control? If you vomit in your helmet, how much damage does it do to your eyes? 

Bodily elimination? Mary canvasses the difficulties of managing this in the cramped quarters of the Gemini and Apollo capsules. Can urine be recycled? (Mary's husband objected when he found a beaker of filtered, osmotically treated urine in their refrigerator chilling for the lunch table.) Do astronauts wear Depends when they walk in space? Could feces be used to insulate the spacecraft against the chill of space and the heat of reentry? Every avenue of research, it's all here, con gusto. 

How do you wash in space? How might astronauts have sex in space? Is it anything like dolphins, buoyed by water? No, probably not, because they hang on with...well, you can read that part for yourselves. How many pairs of underpants can you bring? How would you pack wine to drink in space, assuming that teetotalers had not objected about their tax dollars paying for it? Perhaps most morbidly fascinating are the sections on nutrition in space. The research and reality of space rations do not make a pretty tale. 

There is science here, but dished up with the focus on how it is for the astronauts to survive in the alien environment of space. Roach researched and interviewed exhaustively, and no bit of arcana seems to have slipped her net. For example, on Apollo 16 in 1972, the rations included citrus products laced with potassium because the previous mission had returned an electrolyte-imbalanced crew. Astronaut John Young, not realizing that there was a "hot mike," complained that it was giving him flatulence: "I mean, I haven't eaten this much citrus fruit in 20 years! And I'll tell you one thing, in another 12 days, I ain't never eating any more." Governor Reubin Askew of Florida countered with a defense of his state's produce, insisting that it was the potassium, and not the citrus, causing the problem. 

Packing for Mars is "science lite;" wry and ferociously witty, never mean or boring. The footnotes alone will have you laughing out loud. It's obvious that Mary Roach is interested in people--their ideas, beliefs, quirks and needs. In spite of the entertaining title, it's less about the future of manned space flight than a look back, but there is plenty of current research as well. A wealth of anecdotes and offbeat observations make the medicine of science go down easily. This book--and this author--deserve every bit of success that come their way. Great fun! 

I listened to the Audible unabridged edition from Brilliance audio, enthusiastically narrated by Sandra Burr; and, I have to add, just barely managed to NOT laugh myself off the road at some of the footnotes.
Not the triumphs and the tragedies, but the stuff in between Not the triumphs and the tragedies, but the stuff in between

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August 31, 2010
Nice review! Hi, Linda...remember me from amazon? :)
August 31, 2010
Sure do, Woopak. Nice to see all the changes over here, it's a very happy crowd.
August 31, 2010
Great review, Linda. I discovered this title for the first time in our newspaper book review section this weekend and I'm REALLY looking forward to reading it. The other titles by the same author sound positively fascinating as well.
August 31, 2010
Hi Paul! I hope you enjoy this as much as I did. I like to mix it up--am always listening to an audio and reading one or more from books or Kindle, and it works for me if one is light entertainment and another is more serious.
August 31, 2010
Same here! I'm always reading one book and listening to another. If I keep them different in theme or genre, I have no difficulty keeping them separate. If one is fiction and the other is non-fiction, like this one, they're particularly easy to handle at the same time.
More Packing for Mars: The Curious ... reviews
Quick Tip by . September 16, 2010
Do you ever dream of being an astronaut? Do you enjoy well written popular science? Do you enjoy a good laugh? Are you unembarrassed or undisturbed by a good fart joke? If this sounds like you, then PACKING FOR MARS is a book that you really must read. PACKING FOR MARS is the story about why man's biology is the sole impediment to a space flight to Mars!
review by . September 16, 2010
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 …
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Linda Bulger ()
Ranked #148
When I love a book, I want to wave it in somebody's face and say "Look! Read this!" The internet was made for people like me, don't you think? The lunch.com crowd seems friendly enough...   … more
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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. InPacking 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 Marsis 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, makePacking for Marsan uproarious trip into the world of space travel.--Lynette Mong
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ISBN-10: 0393068471
ISBN-13: 978-0393068474
Author: Mary Roach
Genre: Professional & Technical, Science
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
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