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Mary Roach's Curiosities

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

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The best-selling author of Stiff and Bonk explores the irresistibly strange universe of space travel and life without gravity.

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 space walk? Is it possible for the human body to survive a bailout at 17,000 miles per hour?

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.

334 pages, Hardcover

First published August 2, 2010

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About the author

Mary Roach

26 books11.8k followers
Mary Roach is a science author who specializes in the bizarre and offbeat; with a body of work ranging from deep-dives on the history of human cadavers to the science of the human anatomy during warfare.

Mary Roach is the author of the New York Times bestsellers STIFF: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers; GULP: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal, PACKING FOR MARS: The Curious Science of Life in the Void; BONK: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex; and GRUNT: The Curious Science of Humans at War.

Mary has written for National Geographic, Wired, Discover, New Scientist, the Journal of Clinical Anatomy, and Outside, among others. She serves as a member of the Mars Institute's Advisory Board and the Usage Panel of American Heritage Dictionary. Her 2009 TED talk made the organization's 2011 Twenty Most-Watched To Date list. She was the guest editor of the 2011 Best American Science and Nature Writing, a finalist for the 2014 Royal Society Winton Prize, and a winner of the American Engineering Societies' Engineering Journalism Award, in a category for which, let's be honest, she was the sole entrant.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 5,048 reviews
Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,310 reviews120k followers
November 2, 2021
Maybe she could have titled the book The Right Stiff.

I needed to have tissues handy while reading Mary Roach’s latest. No, it is not because it made me sad, but because I was laughing so hard my eyes were gushing. Mary Roach has had that effect on me before. I have read two of her books. Stiff and Spook are greatly entertaining. She has a sense of humor that encompasses a pre-adolescent affinity for the scatological. OK, she likes fart jokes. Blast off, Mary.

She has an appreciation for the absurd and an impressive capacity for finding it.
This sign says REDUCED GRAVITY OFFICE. I know what is in there, but even so, I have to stand for a moment and indulge my imagination, through which coffee pots are floating and secretaries drift here and there like paper airplanes. Or better still, an organization devoted to the taking of absolutely nothing seriously.
She seems to write with actual glee when reporting on the frequently vomitous results of weightlessness, and her tales of head-case astronauts playing gruesome practical jokes while in orbit had me weeping with laughter.

Yet through all the laughter there is considerable payload to be had in Roach’s books. One can gain here, among other things, an appreciation for just how little was known about the effect of space flight on humans (or chimps) before we followed the Soviets into orbit. There is info on the design of spacecraft seating, and scary details about how the human body reacts to high-G acceleration, and scarier, deceleration, also why it is better to be on rather than below deck when confronting seasickness. Your eyes will widen and you will find yourself saying “really? Who knew?” Apparently Mary Roach did, or at least does now, and shares her acquired knowledge with the rest of us.

If this book does not deter you from your lifelong desire to become an astronaut (an early career fantasy of mine), there is no hope for you at all, and you should seek counseling.

You may not leak bodily products, tears or worse, while reading Packing For Mars but be sure to keep a hankie or some tissues handy, just in case.

=============================EXTRA STUFF

Links to the author’s personal and Twitter pages

Other Mary Roach books we have enjoyed
-----2021 - Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law
-----2016 - Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War
-----2013 - Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal
-----2006 - Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife
-----2004 - Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

August 21, 2016 - A recommendation from the intrepid Henry B. Planning any long trips, HB? - How to Win Friends and Influence People (on Fake Mars) by Katie Rogers
- New York Times

September 17, 2017 - Washington Post re-printing an AP story - Mars Research Crew Emerges After 8 Months of Isolation - Caleb Jones
Profile Image for Nataliya.
784 reviews12.5k followers
February 26, 2023
We can go on and on how we are made of stardust, but on the way to reach that stardust it’s obvious that pure biology is in charge. Stardust or not, we humans must take in nutrients and eliminate all the wastes, not to mention wash off the dirt and smells, and let’s not forget sex and procreation. And apparently all that can be incredibly challenging and awkward — and quite hilarious — in zero gravity, in the confines of what basically is a tiny sardine tin in space, where privacy is nonexistent and you may end up taking a crap into a plastic bag 6 inches from your crewmate who hasn’t washed for 2 weeks.

“STAFFORD: Give me a napkin quick. There’s a turd floating through the air.”

And there is no bodily function that Mary Roach won’t happily describe in her research into the less glamorous aspects of the space program. She’s gleefully irreverent, and let’s face it — training for a space flight involves things that most people do not think of. But space vomit, just like space urine and space turds and space unwashed stink are important, okay?

“According to more than one astronaut memoir, one of the most beautiful sights in space is that of a sun-illumined flurry of flash-frozen waste-water droplets. Space doesn’t just encompass the sublime and the ridiculous. It erases the line between.”

Training for a space toilet by using a camera to see the exact anus positioning? Measuring space poop curling properties? Telling NASA that the line is drawn at hydrolyzed poop burgers? (Don’t ask.) Fecal popcorning? (Seriously, don’t even ask).

A vet team creating space food? Researching a porn movie trilogy to see if there indeed has been copulation in microgravity? Space burps and space farts? (Sadly, even strongest space farts won’t propel you across the spaceship cabin. So sad) Bed rest for science? What if you vomit into your space helmet? (Please don’t). Effects of isolation, bone mass loss, jumping out of a plane moving very fast (really really don’t, if you want to live).

“When you have one pair of underpants for a two-week spaceflight, anal leakage is not your pal.”

One thing I learned: I may want to wait for my Mars space voyage until the bathroom facilities on my future shuttle have been fully perfected.

4 stars.

From January 1964 to November 1965, a series of nine experiments on “minimal personal hygiene”—including a two-week Gemini VII simulation—had been taking place in an aluminum space capsule simulator inside Building 824 of the Aerospace Medical Research Laboratories. The AMRL people did not mess around. Minimal was defined as “no bathing or sponging of the body, no shaving, no hair and nail grooming…, no changing clothes and bed linen, the use of substandard oral hygiene, and minimal use of wipes” for, depending on the experiment, anywhere from two to six weeks. One team of subjects lived and slept in spacesuits and helmets for four weeks. Their under-clothes and socks deteriorated so completely that they had to be replaced. “Subject C became so nauseated by body odor that he was forced to remove his helmet after wearing it for less than ten hours. Subjects A and B had already removed their helmets by that time.” It didn’t help. With the helmet off, body odors were “forced out around the neck of the pressure suit,” a situation described by B, on day four, as “absolutely horrible.” This explains why Frank Borman, in the mission transcript for the second day of Gemini VII, asks Lovell if he has a clothespin. He’s about to unzip his suit. (“For your nose,” he tells the perplexed Lovell.)


Also posted on my blog.
Profile Image for Stephen.
1,516 reviews11.2k followers
May 25, 2012
Space…the final frontier:
where intrepid heroes break free from the mortal bonds of Mother Earth to experience such singular marvels as:

1. Fecal popcorning (definition forthcoming);
2. Condom-shaped urinal devices (with different sizes for, um, different sizes);
3. Weightless Flight Regurgitation Phenomenon (Hint: turns out gravity is a vital part of both swallowing food and keeping it locked down in the tummy);
4. The pleasures, subject to NASA regulations, of Zero-G copulation; and
5. The breath-taking beauty of witnessing a “sun-illumined flurry of flash-frozen waste-water droplets” against the blackness of space.

Plus, these "right stuffers" get to enjoy the potentially fatal dangers of vomiting during a spacewalk, and, ironically, the related joy of consuming food substances comprised primarily of “melted lard, milk protein, Knox gelatin, cornstarch, sucrose.”

As she states early in this fun-packed romp through the history of space exploration, “Space doesn’t just encompass the sublime and the ridiculous. It erases the line between.” Well, this book does exactly that, and Mary Roach deserves a standing ovation for skillfully balancing well-researched, interesting facts, with hilarious “insider” anecdotes, and wrapping it up in a presentation that is entertaining from start to finish.

Light-hearted yet detailed, Roach navigates her material with a high degree of deft and provides information on a range of topics in a manner that is easily digestible (unlike some of the space food discussed). Despite my lop-sided references above to the more humorous topics addressed, there's a little bit of everything in this survey of humanity’s sojourns into the void. Ms. Roach provides fascinating information on numerous topics, both scientific and practical, highlighting the challenges of space exploration. A few of the less comical, but just as interesting, chapters include discussions on:

** The various psychological problems that arise as a result of extended isolation, including madness, euphoria and suicidal tendencies.

** The almost unimaginable complications involved in trying to heft a Earth-made object, carrying oxygen-breathing mammals into a airless, zero gravity environment. “Apollo 8 has 5,600,000 parts…Even if all functioned with 99.9 percent reliability, we could expect 5,600 defects.” Since any one of those defects could lead to disaster, the amount of testing and preparation involved is similarly staggering.

** The affects that extended weightlessness has on the human body, from loss of bone density and muscle tone, to the actual shifting of organs in side the body.

** The dramatic change in the optimum qualities making up the “right stuff” in today’s space program, versus those required in the early days of space flight.

However, I admit that it was when Mary delved into those “little discussed” areas where natural human functions intersected with the challenges of space that I had the most fun. In particular, the struggle with ingesting and evacuating foodstuffs (and I use that word loosely) while in the cramped, awkward, shared confinement of a space module was a veritable golden shower of poop jokes and naughty bit references, sure to please the inner, developmentally-arrested child in you*.

Therefore, as promised above, here is fecal popcorning, as described by Ms. Roach:
Because everything else is frozen, the material that’s going in, depending on how hard the stool is, has a tendency to bounce off the walls. You’ve seen the old air-pop popcorn machines? There’s an air flow in there and it’s kind of circulating. That material’s just floating around in the air stream, and it tends to come back up the tube. Howdy doody.
What really makes the above quote work is Roach’s perfect delivery of the last two words, and that kind of well-timed, clever humor peppers the narrative. By the way, fecal popcorning is not even close to the most uncomfortable feature of space-based defection, but I will leave the other nuggets for you to discover on your own.

As funny as this can be, in the end, what really sets this apart from simple comedy shtick, which would get old very fast, is how much information Mary effortlessly imparts and her obvious admiration for the men and women involved. From lectures on g-forces assailing the body, to the unnatural effect of zero-G, to the myriad of other extreme mental and physical stresses to which the body is subjected, Mary will leave you with a heightened appreciation for the courage of these unique people.

Also, underlying all of the light-heartedness and the humorous anecdotes is the message of the wonders of space exploration, the awe-inspiring dedication of the people that carry it out, and the importance to the human spirit that such endeavors continue. Even the funny bits, in addition to serving up yucks, serve to increase the positive perception of these mythic figures known as astronauts by creating a more human connection with the rest of us.

I want to end with what I found to be the most moving passage in the entire book. In it, Mary Roach sums up her attitude towards space exploration, while responding to those that argue that the money spent on such luxuries a manned excursion to Mars would be better spent on the ground.
The nobility of the human spirit grows harder for me to believe in. War, zealotry, greed, malls, narcissism. I see a backhanded nobility in excessive, impractical outlays of cash prompted by nothing loftier than a species joining hands and saying “I bet we can do this.” Yes, the money could be better spent on Earth. But would it? Since when has money saved by government red-lining been spent on education and cancer research? It is always squandered. Let’s squander some on Mars. Let’s go out and play.

Well said, Ms. Roach, well said.


* I admit that two full chapters on bowel movements began to wear a little thin at the end, but that's just me.
Profile Image for Kemper.
1,390 reviews6,972 followers
October 28, 2014
I’m a big space geek and have spent countless hours reading or watching documentaries about manned space flight. I’ve seen a space shuttle launch and been through the Kennedy Space Center a couple of times. I went and saw the traveling exhibit of Gus Grissom’s capsule that was retrieved from the ocean floor and refurbished. So I thought I knew something about NASA and astronauts.

However, I’d never heard the phrase 'fecal popcorning' before.

These are the kind of tidbits you get in Packing for Mars. Mary Roach takes a light hearted but fascinating look at all the research and projects that go into putting and keeping people in space. This isn’t about the rockets or the life support systems, it’s about the seemingly more mundane stuff like hygiene, the effects of isolation, long-term health risks, time management, safety devices, nutrition and human waste disposal. (Actually, way more about the waste disposal than I really wanted to know. Which is where the fecal popcorning came into it. Thanks for that, NASA!)

This stuff may seem trivial, but as Roach illustrates when it comes to living in a sealed zero-gravity environment nothing is easy. Something as simple as trying to get some exercise to prevent the deterioration of bone mass involves countless hours of study on earth, including a research center where subjects are paid thousands of dollars to spend a month in bed. (Read the fine print before you rush to sign up. It's not quite as good as it sounds.)

Roach strikes the perfect tone of treating the various subjects seriously while still injecting a lot of humor when it’s called for. She’s also willing to do far more than I would for a book including drinking her own recycled urine and using the space toilet trainer that has a camera in it so that astronauts can see parts of themselves that no person was meant to see as they orient themselves to do a *ahem* docking maneuver. (Seriously, there’s a lot of poop in this book.)

While reading it, I kept thinking of the argument that’s been made that putting people into space is dangerous and wasteful. So much of what’s done becomes just about keeping the astronauts alive that the science tends to get lost. Especially considering what’s been accomplished with far less money on projects like the Hubble telescope and the Mars rovers. However, Roach has a short but passionate argument at the end where she outlines why she thinks all of this is so cool and necessary, and why people should go to Mars. And you know what? She sold me.

Entertaining, informative and filled with funny stories and bits of trivia, I enjoyed this one a lot. But it’s got more poop than a Jonathan Franzen novel so beware if you’re squeamish.
Profile Image for Petra on hiatus, really unwell.
2,457 reviews34.4k followers
May 6, 2015
Note: the dolphin-sex thing appears to be a hoax. Shame that. I like the idea of space sex having to be a threesome.

Why the Space Program Costs so Much. Because its run by a load of backward-thinking dickheads, contrary to what you might think.

Mary Roach seems to have an obsession with poo. I did actually want to know about toilet facilities in space, but not two-chapters worth of knowledge. Similarly a chapter about sex, although no-one apart from one Russian wanker (literally) actually admits to having it at all. The author does make the point though that weightlessness might make union difficult unless one employed a third person to push the two together, much like dolphins apparently do in the equally weightless medium of water.

I wanted to know much more about questions the author chose not to address to do with food, leisure time Do they watch movies, read books or just go for a stroll? How did they do their hair, did it grow faster or slower on the space station? Did they grow food of any kind? What about insects - did any of those find themselves on a trip to space and what happened to them if they did? Loads of things...

What I did learn was that anything built for space is subject to one restriction - it must be as small and light as possible as each extra pound costs thousands of dollars in the extra thrust needed to send it into space. However, there are certain taboos that cannot be overcome and the governments of both the USA and Russia are willing to spend out all the extra money in the world to make sure that men, as ever, not matter how fake it is, reign supreme.

Women are smaller, lighter and consequently generally eat less food, drink less water and breathe less air so naturally they should be the astronauts. NASA could raise only one objection to women in space which obviously must have been solved by now, as there are female astronauts, that urine droplets do not separate from the genitals and pubic hair 'cleanly' as they do in men. I'm not joking. Have they never heard of http://www.thisnext.com/topic-female-... or couldn't they invent one? So essentially the whole space program would be much more cost-effective if women were astronauts and men, unless they were quite little, stayed home and looked after the babies. But we couldn't have that, could we? American values count for more!
Profile Image for carol..
1,574 reviews8,230 followers
July 7, 2013

Roach is well known for her earlier books, Stiff (about human cadavers), Bonk (science and sex) and Spook (the afterlife). In Packing, she takes on the US space program, and how it’s dealt with many of the everyday biological issues we take for granted– such as washing, eating, and urinating. However, willingness to take on the scatological is just part of her hook; she integrates information about the program in general as well as Earth-based research supporting it.

I learned a lot more of the early space program than I expected, usually palatable due to Roach’s inclusion of either direct interview or historical quotes from astronauts and scientists. Initial sleepiness from the material was chased away once I reached the chapter “The Cadaver in the Space Capsule” onward. The section on food and nutrition was horrifying, as well as the section on defecating. I have to confess, I’ve never been much of a space junkie, but I love science fiction and biology and this was a fascinating read once I was past the beginning hurdles. Roach’s humorous asides added a dash levity to a potentially dry subject. I had never really thought about the extent to which astronauts sacrifice their personal privacy; she has a hysterical transcript from Mission Control where controllers are asking about astronaut flatulence. Roach even explores some of the ongoing studies impacting space travel. One covered in some detail is an Earth-based study examining the impact of 3 months of bed rest on bone structure, and the poor people who volunteered for it. A note for those who like accuracy in titles: much in the book does not specifically has to do with Mars missions, just issues regarding living in space.

The book had an extra impact of nostalgia back when I read this–it was close to the last shuttle launch. Sad now to see so much of the program being planned for obsolescence when it was an international preoccupation for decades. Thank you, astronauts for your sacrifices.

Laugh out loud lines:

“Is he leaking badly from anything major?”

“The whole procedure will unfold exactly as it would with a live patient, right down to a forty-five-minute wait and a problem with the billing.”

“The staff played hot potato with my call until someone could locate the Person in Charge of Lying to the Press.”

Cross posted at http://clsiewert.wordpress.com/2013/0...
Profile Image for Greta G.
337 reviews252 followers
July 5, 2017

 photo 03A4BAAE-DA26-47DD-8669-6243FEB91B92.jpg

This was a fascinating trip. Really.
I learned a lot about seals, black bears, dolphins, rats, dogs and chimps.

En route I also learned something about astronauts and their way of life in space.
And this kind of life is not at all what I had imagined even in my wildest dreams.
Let me warn you, if you've ever fantasized about taking a vacation in space, you should read this book first.

The comfort in a space hotel is basic, even if you paid billions of dollars for a 5-twinkling-star hotel.
If you consider yourself a hygienic person, you don't want to book a space hotel. There are no showers! And not being able to chance your socks for several days, can be a real downer for your co-travelers.
If you love a well-prepared meal, you don't want to visit space either. Space hotels hire veterinarians to cook your meals.
Also, a comfortable toilet is out of the question. Holding the astro-newspaper while hovering above the toilet is no mean feat to do.

If you don't mind to face all these uncomfortable conditions, just to enjoy a nice, dreamlike stroll in space, be prepared to do some bungee-jumping during your spacewalk.
Scuba-divers however, will feel comfortable in space much more likely than the average hiker.

Don't expect that you will meet many people during your stay in space. This is a solitary trip. Before you depart for the stars, you should ask your therapist if you are up to it. If you love to socialize during your travels, you better visit Spain.

Couples that want to make love in space, should consider bringing a third person to help out. I really don't advice this trip to newly-weds. Even if a honeymoon on the moon sounds really romantic, it could be devastating for a young couple's future sex-life.

Also, delivering a baby in space is not something you want to do, however awesome it sounds. The baby could be traumatized for the rest of its earthly life.

The flight to your space hotel can be really nasty too. Ever been sick in a car or on a ship? You've seen (felt) nothing yet. Being deaf-mute is an advantage though.

And landing back on earth after an adventurous travel, can be really bumpy.
Don't even think about making this trip if you have osteoporoses.

Score: 7/10
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,782 reviews14.2k followers
October 29, 2019
3.5 I recently read Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man's First Journey to the Moon, and so some of the things in this book were also in the former. In this one, Mary Roach is much more descriptive in exactly what this astronauts go through before and during a flight. The problems that had to be solved even before space travel was considered. Effects of gravity on breathing, on bones and other bodily functions. Experiments undertaken, results, adjustments.

So, let's just say after reading this unless space travel is like that on the Star Trek Enterprise, I'm not going. Nausea, motion sickness, vomitingg that floats through the air, socks and underwear that disintegrate, claustrophobia, massive body odor, are some of the undesirable elements with which they are faced. Not to matter bathing and other bathroom functions. These are dedicated men and women, and yes I'm a bit of a priss, but I admire their dedication.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books4,102 followers
March 22, 2019
Mary Roach is a funny woman. I guess that's what you get when no subject is taboo and she has the charm to pull it all off. :)

What does she pull off? A full, scientifically accurate look at the little stuff in life. Astronauts living in space was rather more the focus. That's okay. We're not quite ready to go to Mars. But at least we're ready to drink our pee! Yay!

Seriously though, beyond the last quarter of the book being devoted to floating poo in a very fun and educational way, the whole book is a serious work of scholarship, investigation, and interview. We can throw out a lot of the myths and add a whole lot of true facts to our bags thanks to this non-fiction.

I honestly had a great time reading it. And since this is my second Mary Roach, I think I may be plunging ahead to read more. :) Yay!
Profile Image for 7jane.
683 reviews268 followers
November 13, 2019
This was a fun read, lots of information and odd (sometimes disgusting in the 'don't eat while reading' way) facts. Fun facts about space travel, things that happen(ed) on earth and up there, with footnotes here and there. There is a timeline (1949-2003) and a bibliography at the end.

Things included include who gets in, on isolation and confinement, keeping your sanity, lack of gravity, throwing up, crash tests, animals used (Albert, Ham, Enos and others not named), plans of travel to Mars, on washing yourself and toilet time, sleeping, sex, getting down from there, food, and future hopes. (Felix Baumgartner appear here, not yet having jumped out of that Red Bull thing, which happened in 2012, a bit over a year after the book came out.)

Actions: getting the US flag right for the first moon landing, making origami cranes, the lubed-butt slide test, missing the nature while up there, trying to save Jimi Hendrix, defrosting a cadaver, faking a seatbelt malfunction, taking "little bunny sniffs", black bears' winter hibernation, spying on seals' mating rituals, the "corned beef sandwich incident" of 1965, muslim prayer options in space

Objects: NASA tv channel, helmet vomit, turkey vulture vomit (a delicacy for coyotes), Tomb of the Unknown Dog (in Russia), stinky pressure suits, cheese bacteria, decomposing clothes, a snorkel, hip-squeezing machine, dolphin genitals, the finger insert in the pooping bag, frozen poop storage space, fecal dust, little Communion packages, farts, the Phoenix lander (working 2008-2010).

Why: hot tubs are not so good an idea, if in a car it's better being hit from the front is better than from the sides - for the human body, astronauts are on their backs, jumping from a plane (the big usual type) is a bad idea.

I'm pretty sure leaving food chapter until last chapters was a good idea. I did feel pity for the animals, but it's good they were mentioned. But anyway, this was a fun, sometimes gross, a read and really informative. Like climbing the Everest, for me it's interesting to read about it, and also a relief not to have to experience some downsides of it (or whatever direction things here are currently pointing towards *lol*).
Profile Image for Richard Derus.
2,977 reviews1,989 followers
April 30, 2013
Rating: 4.5* of five

The Publisher Says: 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 space walk? Is it possible for the human body to survive a bailout at 17,000 miles per hour?

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.

My Review: 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?"


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Profile Image for Dennis.
658 reviews276 followers
May 25, 2020
“Is he leaking badly from anything major?“

In this book Mary Roach tells us about the challenges of space travel and the extensive research that is done before humans are sent into space.

And she caused sustained eyeleak (of the good kind) for this reader, because she’s going places other writers seldom dare to go. Telling the stories other writers would likely gloss over and NASA would certainly prefer to stay a private matter.

Life in the void provides many unique challenges. But there are a few we might not think of, initially. What does it mean if you spend weeks with someone else in a cramped space, where you can barely move and can’t take a shower? How do you use a toilet in zero gravity? What happens to your bones after you spent a prolonged time in zero gravity and then you are exposed to one minute of sustained 4Gs during reentry? Or 10Gs during a crash landing? Will you be able to walk without breaking your bones when you are back on Earth? What happens if you bale out from an aircraft at Mach 3.5? Or a space craft at Mach 17? What happens if you barf into your helmet during an EVA? Can you have sex in zero gravity? Is masturbation permitted?

Mary Roach asked these questions and many more and somehow was mostly able to get answers. And if she didn’t, she asked someone else.
The book is at its best when the author‘s dry wit and/or playful manner collides with NASA’s strictly scientific and unhumorous approach to anything that concerns space flight (and use of language).

NASA’s employees though are not devoid of humor and Roach found the right people to talk to.

To fully enjoy this book though you should not be easily grossed out by bodily fluids, organs traveling to places where they shouldn’t be, or crash tests with human cadavers. Don’t worry, there are no pictures of horrific injuries. But some do get mentioned.

This book might not be the best book ever about space travel. But it is certainly the most unusual and funniest book I’ve ever read about that topic.

As always when it comes to humor, it won’t be for everyone. But there are certainly not many places where you will read an actual mission transcript like this from the Apollo 10 mission (starring Mission Commander Thomas Stafford, Lunar Module Pilot Gene Cernan, and Command Module Pilot John Young, orbiting the moon 200,000-plus miles from the nearest bathroom):

CERNAN:…You know once you get out of lunar orbit, you can do a lot of things. You can power down…And what’s happening is—
STAFFORD: Oh—who did it?
YOUNG: Who did what?
STAFFORD: Who did it? [laughter]
CERNAN: Where did that come from?
STAFFORD: Give me a napkin quick. There’s a turd floating through the air.
YOUNG: I didn’t do it. It ain’t one of mine.
CERNAN: I don’t think it’s one of mine.
STAFFORD: Mine was a little more sticky than that. Throw that away.
YOUNG: God almighty.

[And again eight minutes later, while discussing the timing of a waste-water dump.]
YOUNG: Did they say we could do it anytime?
CERNAN: They said on 135. They told us that—Here’s another goddam turd. What’s the matter with you guys? Here, give me a—
YOUNG/STAFFORD: [laughter]…
STAFFORD: It was just floating around?
STAFFORD: [laughter] Mine was stickier than that.
YOUNG: Mine was too. It hit that bag—
CERNAN: [laughter] I don’t know whose that is. I can neither claim it nor disclaim it. [laughter]
YOUNG: What the hell is going on here?

Yep. Space is a shitty place to be, if privacy and dignity are amongst your major concerns.
Profile Image for Melki.
6,039 reviews2,391 followers
October 7, 2015
I did not expect to be so captivated by this book. After all, I barely paid attention when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in 1969. I was a very mature seven year old, and I had seen better space "movies" at the local theater.
My interest in the space program remained low while I was growing up. Of course, I watched and cried over the Challenger and Columbia disasters. But otherwise, I was mostly oblivious.
I suppose it was not until Nasa announced that the shuttle flights were coming to an end, that I began to get truly interested in our trips to space. I now make frequent vists to http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/realdata/... to find out when the space station can be spotted flying overhead. I tramp outside at all hours, in freezing weather, cursing heavy cloud cover, just hoping to catch a glimpse of a fast moving light in the sky.

I am a huge fan of Roach's writing style and her need to always look at the strange side of life. She asks the questions I would, if I had the chance and were bold, and unembarrassed enough, to ask. She covers all manner of topics - helmet design, crash safety, long term effects of weightlessness, food, how to keep clean in space, and the bane of most of my life - motion sickness. And yes, there is an entire chapter devoted to how to poop in space.

Mary Roach has certainly captured the magic and wonder in this book. In a voice as excited as a child on Christmas Eve, she paints a loving tribute to astronauts, both human and animal, who dedicated, and sometimes, gave their lives to exploration.
Profile Image for David Rubenstein.
816 reviews2,583 followers
January 22, 2011
There's a bit of space science in this book, but it's mostly a humorous, immensely scatalogical romp through the space program. By reading this book, you will gain a treasure trove of trivia, ranging from astronaut food, defecation, odors, nausea, to the earliest, non-human astronauts who were shot up into space on rockets. You will learn the real reason why women were not enlisted as astronauts in the early days of NASA, which turns out to be the exact same reason why Russians did include women astronauts! No subject is considered taboo in this book.

The book describes the "potty-cam" at Johnson Space Center. It sits inside a toilet, looking upward, to help train astronauts how to sit on a specially-designed toilet in space. Viewing the real-time video feed, Mary Roach writes that the view is a bit like looking at your home planet for the first time from space.

Mary Roach tries a little too hard to be super-cutesy, resulting in narration that reads more like flirtatious conversation. If you can get beyond the stylistic banalities, you will be well entertained.
Profile Image for Cassy.
250 reviews737 followers
June 9, 2011
There was a rule in my house growing up: no talking about “bodily functions”. When my older sister would start going on about how she clogged the toilet or an episode of smelly burps, my very Southern mother would intervene. “Jill, there will no discussion of bodily functions at this dinner table. Would anyone like more peach cobbler?”

Mary Roach would make an interesting dinner guest at my parents’ house. Her book is overflowing with bodily functions: vomit, body odor, pooping/peeing, and sex in space. Not a little mention here or there. We are talking an entire chapter per topic! Mary knows people are secretly curious. During the event, she even described the poop chapter as the “gateway drug”.

In the interest of full disclosure, the book ventures beyond the bathroom and bedroom to discuss other topics such as the psychological impact of isolation. There is also a chapter about space food – which (logically) ends on a discussion of flatulence. I guess that won’t qualify for table talk either. Oh, and there is a chapter about sending animals up in space – which investigates the rumor that one chimp had a masturbation problem. Huh, Mary better stick to complimenting my mother on the pot roast.

Mary shares a knack with A.J. Jacobs for taking a potentially dry topic, finding the quirky tidbits, and exploiting them to their full comedic potential. And she will go out of her way for a joke. A really long way. There are numerous footnotes for whenever something became irrelevant to the topic at hand, but it was so funny she just couldn’t let it go (and bless her for that).

Putting aside the hilarity, Mary is a strong writer who clearly did her research. She managed to impart a great deal of useful information. (Although “useful” may not be best word since I am likely stuck on Earth my whole life.)

You could say Mary deglamorizes astronauts. I am a nuts-and-bolts kind of girl – so is Mary. It just so happens that an astronaut’s career is full of tedious planning and even more tedious living arrangements once they’re in space. Yet Mary retains a sense of wonder at how fundamentally awesome it would be to go up there. Sure, dinner may come out of a tube, but at least you can gawk out the window at Earth while you eat it.

As I alluded above, I attended an event with Mary hosted by the Space Center Lecture Series.* This being Houston, the crowd was full of NASA employees and aerospace contractors. While I thoroughly enjoyed the book, I could not judge how accurately it portrayed the overall issues and technical aspects of spaceflight. The people sitting around me could. I feel pretty confident stating that the experts approve of her book. They were all happy to be there on a Friday night. And during the Q&A, no one lobbed harsh critiques or questions. (Or maybe the detractors didn’t hate it enough to come out.)

And guess who else was in the audience? Mary gave a shout out to Renee for telling her about the bed rest facility where people are paid to laze around all day. This eventually turned into chapter 11. More importantly, it was where she found the inspiration to pursue an entire book about spaceflight. As further evidence of the crowd’s amicability, everyone clapped for Renee.

As I was reading, I pictured Mary as enthusiastic, charming, and persistent. How else could she have gotten into all those cool places? Meeting her confirmed my impression. She is the type of person who you can ask a simple question and they’ll give you a five-minute (and worthwhile) response. And her curiosity is so great that she started interviewing her interviewer – who was John Charles, a NASA employee and a source featured in the book. At one point, Mary described herself as having the mind of a twelve year old boy – which helps explain why she focuses on such oddball topics. She confessed to not watching the moon landing as a child and how her sources had to hold her hand through the technicalities.

I have an exclusive for you! The subject matter for Mary’s next book is top secret, but she reluctantly revealed the title. Gulp! No, really. That is it. Gulp. Guess away! My bet is on sea creatures. Leo put forth water shortage crises. Whatever it is, I’m game.

*The organizer said he would post a video of the lecture here.
Profile Image for Emily (Books with Emily Fox).
553 reviews60.5k followers
July 17, 2017
If you're looking for a fun non-fiction about space/astronauts I would recommend it!

With that said, be warned that pooping in space is a big problem and you'll learn about it in length!
Profile Image for Glitterbomb.
204 reviews
January 12, 2018
**This review contains profanity and dick and fart jokes.**

I've been trying to write this review for what feels like hours now (Its actually been about 10 minutes). It's not that I didn't take notes, because I did, lots and lots of notes. This... thing... sitting next to me resembles a pile of unicorn vomit, rather than a book, with the amount of post-its stuck to it (its very colourful and pretty). I was going to take a picture, but I'm not sure I want this floating around on the internet for all eternity....

Because my notes, you see, are filled with dick and fart jokes. I just pulled one post-it off at random, and, I'm not joking, it says "Prostatic Vibrating Machine - you dirty, dirty boys you!" another ones says "Self adhesive shit bags and unintentional butt crack waxing" and yet another one says simply "BWAHAHAHAHA!!!!"

So instead of writing a "proper" review (Ha!) I thought I would just pull post-it notes out at random and write what they say. Here goes;

- Enos the Penis - The Tale of the Self Flagellating Monkey
- Society Against Gravity - "SAG"?... REALLY?!
- The Uranus Experiment - A Zero G Porno
- The extraterrestrial cod piece
- Zero G Sexy Time
- There shall be no damp or soggy areas! - commandment number 1
- Farts in a bottle - no really, somebody actually measured this (***VERIFY IMMEDIATELY!)
- Did you bring a condom? No darling, but I did bring the duct tape! (sex aids for astronauts)
- Heheh! Buttocks spreader! But-tocks... spreaaader (Spreader being the new moist - who can I gross out?)
- Side effect; Anal Leakage - not desirable... (See edible clothing)
- Fine dining on used clothing
- Poop Bag w/ Finger pouch
- Zero G Ranching - LET THEM EAT MICE!

Those are just a few, I left out my *ahem* "notes" that are purely a written form of me pissing myself laughing. I have 10 or so that are literally just filled with "HAHAHAHAHAHAH!" over and over again. There's a few that say "Scientist are batshit crazy!" and another one that says "Yeah, I totally shouldn't have looked that up, next time take the authors advice."

This thing was so entertaining, and also proved to me just how immature I am... not that this really needed "proving", my inner 10 year old isn't exactly on a tight leash.

It was also incredibly informative, and delivered in such an easy to read manner. There was no head scratching or frantic googling trying to work out rocket science. There was some frantic googling to look up gross stuff though.

I heart gross stuff.

While it's somewhat on the irreverent side, it also touched very respectfully, on the Columbia tragedy, and how NASA strives to ensure the safety of its people. It also drove home the point of just how hostile space is, and the risks astronauts take each and every time they journey into the void. The amount and range of research involved is absolutely staggering. Scientists had to pull apart and examine the human body in the the most minute detail before sending a man into space. These are some seriously brave and clever men and women and I tip my hat to them (while on the inside I seethe with jealousy).

I thoroughly recommend this. Especially if you're like me and are curious about the less glamorous aspects of space travel. And also if you like to shock people with random information that they probably didn't want to know... like how your shit doesn't "break off" in zero G and often needs "a helping hand to achieve maximum separation" (this is related to the aforementioned "Poop bag with Finger Pouch"). *giggles* That's so gross. Gloriously, GLORIOUSLY, gross!

So, if you're not squeamish, do pick this up. Just be prepared for lots of gooey, gooey detail.

Also - don't eat, prepare dinner or snack whilst reading this... because of the gooey detail... yeah, just... don't do that....

5 Stars!
Profile Image for Trevor.
1,301 reviews22k followers
September 24, 2010
I’ve read two other Roach books and have really loved them. They tick all of the boxes – they are witty, wise, fascinatingly interesting and written by someone with an eye that unfailingly spots human foibles. The beauty of her writing is that rather than pointing and laughing, she embrace our foibles and makes us fell all the more human because of them.

Do you know that feeling you get when you read someone and think, ‘God, I would really love to meet you, just to listen to you talk?’ Well, Ms Roach is one of those authors for me.

This one starts slow – she should have cut maybe the first chapter or so. In fact, it starts so slowly that I was afraid I was witnessing the loss of one of my favourite writers. But then she gets into her stride when she starts talking about the sorts of things you’ve always wondered about space flight but were too afraid to ask.

At least, this fear is something finding out about the inconveniences of space flight is something I’ve only just discovered. I was excitedly telling my mother about this book the other day when she said something that really surprised me. I was telling her about the difficulties of defecating in space and she said, “Why would anyone want to know about that?” Her saying this stopped me in my tracks. It had never occurred to me that someone might not want to know about that. Just as the difficulties of sex in space (given Newton’s third law of motion – equal and opposite motion and all that) mean that thrusting can have the undesired effect of pushing the object of your lust off away from you – you can calculate how fast they will move away by using F=ma. It is all a matter of coming and going, I guess.

How could you not be interested in the problems zero gravity present to your bladder? Or that the bag you defecate into also needs antibacterial cream mashed through it before it can be disposed of thoughtfully. A friend of mine once called the bags used for picking up dog droppings ‘little hand warmers’ – this is even more true in space.

This is a look at the all-too-human sides of space exploration and some of the proposals to deal with issues space exploration presents – Muslim prayer times, for example. These are exactly the sorts of things I would never think to think about. I love how obvious some of the solutions to these seemingly intractable problems have turned out to be.

Who would think of putting a camera in a toilet bowl to help train for the best sitting position? And who wouldn’t expect the film thus made not to be viewed inappropriately?

The book looks at some of the crazier myths that have surrounded NASA, like the masturbating chimp story that seems to have been completely fabricated. Although, while we’re on the topic of masturbation, I have to admit that I was surprised that people have actually asked cosmonauts if they masturbated in space.

I really enjoyed this book and am prepared to admit that perhaps that makes me strange. I’ve never been all that interested in space travel, at least, not since I was a kid – in fact, I can probably say I’ve been even less interested in space travel in my adult life than I have been in that other standard childhood fascination, dinosaurs. However, this isn’t really about space travel, it is about putting people in remarkably inconvenient situations and then watching to see how they cope. A lot of the coping they need to do involves abandoning social taboos we take utterly for granted. Defecating while sitting beside a work colleague, for example, would surely prove a challenge for most of us. It is remarkable how well people do cope with these challenges and wonderful to hear about the ingenuity that is applied to solving these issues.

Don’t let the start of this one put you off, this really is the right stuff.
Profile Image for Stephanie *Eff your feelings*.
239 reviews1,234 followers
August 18, 2012
When I was in the sixth grade we had a science project. I remember this well, we had to learn all about rockets and space travel. When we were to reach the end of all the information, we were going to have a test on what we learned.

Nothing new there right? Oh but there was……

The person who had the highest grade on the test was to be the one to “launch” a rocket, you know, the model rockets made from cardboard with a built in parachute for its descent…the ones that you would sometimes put a toad inside as a passenger (I never did that, but I heard he traveled well…not me I swear!) Those rockets seemed incredibly dangerous. I wonder if they’re still around?

Anyway, I decided that person was going to be me because, at the time, I thought I really wanted to go to space. I studied my sixth grade butt off, and much to the dismay of all the geeky boys in my class I aced that test. That test was mine, and I got to launch the rocket. They all glared at me through they’re sullen eyes during the countdown. Sorry boys.

My grandma declared that I was going to be the first women in space. She was positive I was going to be an astronaut.

I am sooo glad she was wrong, because according to this book there is nothing more unpleasant in every conceivable way than space travel. With the problems of the food going in and then the inevitable coming out the other end, I think maybe they should have just taped a diaper on and been done with it. All the cramped quarters, no way, I get claustrophobic in crowds. And then there is the high likely hood of death…and things like that.

Until the posh Star trek like space ships with gravity are invented I’ll pass on the trip to Mars.

And there is the end for my grandma’s dream.

Profile Image for Cody.
310 reviews71 followers
April 3, 2019
"In a memoir, astronaut Michael Collins relates a story of a physician back in the Apollo era who recommended regular masturbation on long missions, lest astronauts develop prostate infections...Cosmonaut Alexandr Laveikin told me he too had heard that lengthy abstinence could cause prostate infections, but that the space agency pretends the issue doesn't exist. "It's up to yourself how you will deal with it. But everybody is doing it, everybody understands. It's nothing. My friends ask me, 'How are you making sex in space?' I say, 'By hand!" As for the logistics," there are possibilities. And sometimes it happens automatically while you sleep. It's natural." John Charles told me he'd heard about the link between prostate health and "self-stim"- at NASA, there's an abbreviation for everything - but never heard any formal discussion , pro or con, on orbital masturbation." (227-228)

"The Johnson Space Center "potty cam," as it is more casually known, is an astronaut training aid. It provides a vivid, arresting perspective on something you've had intimate contract with all your life but never really seen. Perhaps not unlike viewing one's own home planet from space for the first time. Positioning is critical because the opening to a Space Shuttle toilet is 4 inches across as opposed to the 18-inch maw we are accustomed to on Earth. Jim Broyan, a waste-water engineer who designs toilets and other amenities for NASA astronauts, is showing me around...He possesses a stealthy deadpan wit and is, I imagine, tremendous fun to work with." (267-268)

If there was ever a person to explore the eccentricities of space travel with such a comedic wit, it's Mary Roach. Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void is tremendous fun to read, full of laugh-out-loud moments such as the two quotations above. Roach covers little know facts and facets about the rather...let's call them interesting...aspects of space life and difficulty for an astronaut, from lack of gravity when pooping, to the frequent nauseating effects of space travel, to the gross food designed by nutritionists, to the animal volunteers sent up by the American and Russian space agencies. There are transcripts where astronauts are laughing at turds flying by them, a reference to the "Three-Dolphin Club" (look it up), and experiments concerning test subjects staying in bed for months at a time. While reading this book you can laugh out loud whilst accidentally dropping the book and while recovering try to find the page you were on. Roach is a great writer in that anyone without an understanding of the scientific information given won't become that lost whilst reading it. Mars itself isn't really discussed until the last chapter, showcasing just how much humanity currently isn't suited to the notion of traveling, let alone inhabiting it, as possible as that might seem in the coming decades with proper planning. Learning is best when humour is infused, making this an excellent choice for anyone interested in space travel and the training done by astronauts.

Rating: 4.5/5
Profile Image for Paul Weiss.
1,252 reviews235 followers
January 2, 2023
100% educational, 100% entertaining and 100% hilarious!

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 to space travel. It is no exaggeration to suggest that preparation for long term survival in low gravity and extended confinement in extremely close quarters touches on virtually every aspect of man's life - biology, culture, morality, sexuality, psychology, politics, leisure, health, hygiene and even religious practice.

Although the scientific content of PACKING FOR MARS is 100% real and informative, Mary Roach's approach to the topic is light-hearted and, from cover to cover, tongue in cheek and 100% hilarious and utterly entertaining. With the practical problems of zero-gravity defecation and the logistical problem of what to do with the results of any successful elimination being very near the top of the list of engineering conundrums, it's probably not a big surprise to let a potential reader know that scatological humour runs rampant throughout the book. Tears of laughter positively streamed from my eyes as I learned, for example, that the gas volume and the speed of expulsion of even the most flatulent person conceivable would not be sufficient to propel him or her across the room in a zero-gravity situation (Note to self - watch for a potential future MYTHBUSTERS episode!)

PACKING FOR MARS ends with the acknowledgement that pure research on Mars is probably best conducted by robots, computers and pure hardware technology without benefit of man's presence. But, she also suggests that, since government are so prone to fritter away vast sums of money on unproductive and entirely wasteful projects anyway, perhaps it may actually be prudent to plan some frivolous spending on a manned Mars landing. After all, you never know what may come of it!

PACKING FOR MARS is highly recommended with the comment that, aside from being thoroughly entertaining and wonderfully educational, it undoubtedly makes my Top 10 list of the funniest books I've ever read. How can you go wrong with a combination like that?

Paul Weiss
Profile Image for HBalikov.
1,787 reviews674 followers
November 5, 2015
I took my time going through Mary Roach's rap on what it means to be out beyond the Earth's surface.
NASA and the Russians have been spending loads of time and money since the 1950's to prepare and put humans in orbit and beyond. I started reading partially because I wanted a different perspective than the recent bestseller and movie, The Martian, would provide. Roach writes that she was inspired to "think about a trip to Mars and what it would be like to spend two years trapped inside sterile, man-made structures with no way to escape one's work and colleagues and no flowers or trees or sex and nothing to look at outside the window but empty space or, at best, reddish dirt. The astronaut's job is stressful for all the same reasons yours or mine is --- overwork, lack of sleep, anxiety, other people-but two things compound the usual stresses: the deprivations of the environment and one's inability to escape it. Isolation and confinement are issues of no small concerns to space agencies."

With persistence and humor, Roach takes us through the testing of man, equipment, food, etc. She casts a dubious but discerning eye on what the agencies say and what they do, quoting a NASA physician: "The agencies try to keep the best image up, otherwise they don't get funded anymore."

There are wonderful and provocative details about the Japanese, Russian and American experiences. Do you believe, did you know that certain Russian astronauts were given suicide pills? "Given that death from cyanide, the poison most commonly associated with suicide pills, is slower and more ghastly than death from having one's oxygen supply cut off, there would have been little call for the pill."

Roach covers everything, and I mean EVERYTHING! From the dangers of vomiting in a space suit to the fact that you have to take a dump into a baggie while sitting next to your fellow astronauts. Psychological stress of every kind are explored, as are physical issues such as loss of bone mass and flatulence. There is a section devoted to just the physical challenges of sex in zero gravity. And a longer section on the choices of foods, the rationale behind them, and their successes and failures.

I learned a lot. I laughed a lot. And, I am no longer interested in taking a long space journey. "Beam me up, Scotty."
Profile Image for Trish.
2,018 reviews3,436 followers
March 22, 2019
This is my second book by this author and once again she has proven that she has a great sense of humour. The other book I've read was about human cadavers and it was funny to see a short chapter dedicated to cadavers needed here, too.

The book, as the title suggests, is about space exploration - the history including Moon landings, the science behind anything from heat shielding to toilets, the process with which astronauts are tested and chosen, atronauts' training. There are even some comments about funding and, therefore, changing politics.
Why Mars, specifically, in the title then? Because it has its very own challenges due to being farther away. There is a significant psychological difference between going to the ISS or the Moon and the much longer journey to Mars.

In her signature humorous way, she respects the topic and seems fascinated by the topic herself, but also knows that many things related to space travel are quite ridiculous and thus presents them in a corresponding funny way. From dolphin genitalia capable of grabbing even humans and puke-loving coyotes to hilarious actual communiquès about turds floating in zero-g and aspiring astronauts having to fold 1000 Origami cranes, the reader is taken on a very entertaining tour full of scientific facts that are therefore never boring and easy to follow.

Personally, apart from me wanting humanity to colonize the stars (yes, I know we'll take our problems with us but it's still cool - and necessary!), I'm also very interested in the engineering feats and all the things we take for granted here on Earth that simply don't work/exist in space so astronauts have to re-learn everything and engineers and technicians need to be aware of the respective problem even before being able to come up with a work-around or solution!

Did you know, for example (not a fact drawn from this book but it's true and has fascinated me for decades) that when you cut open one of those musical greeting cards the chip you're holding has the exact same amount of computing power that was needed / used to get man to the Moon?! Isn't that equally exciting and unbelievable?!

Or the fact that NASA not only had to take an American flag up to the Moon (romantic little me thinks nationalities shouldn't matter up there) but then also had to remember that the flag wouldn't fly as they usually do down here (depending on the weather) and subsequently also had to come up with a solution for the problem (which sparked so many conspiracy theories that we never actually have been to the Moon)! Not to mention that every gram of weight on a rocket is a problem.

Apart from the heroism we associate with astronauts and the feats achieved with space shuttles and space stations, Mary Roach doesn't hold back when showing us what space research and space flight is really like (at least sometimes). The advancements as well as the problems (technological and due to us humans), going TO space and coming BACK (re-entry), what we do in the void. She covers almost all and gives us details I'm not sure too many others dare cover.

I wasn't and still am not too much a fan of the animals that had to suffer in the name of science (dogs, chimps, rats, ...) but the crash tests and the interconnectedness of sooo many scientific fields (even dermatology) always sparks my interest.

Sure, there have to be better solutions for drive systems that we'll hopefully develop in the future, but what we've already achieved in the past (even though it was mostly only thanks to competition between warring nations) is amazing and I hope we won't stop but keep pushing forward!

A seriously cool book narrated by a great woman who had no problem with appropriately bring certain scenes to life - adding to the laughter and enjoyment.
Profile Image for Crystal Starr Light.
1,357 reviews831 followers
August 3, 2015
Bullet Review:

Huh. Not quite what I was expecting - more a "look at all these weird things in space" than anything close to a checklist of things necessary for a Mars mission. And those weird things seem to focus A LOT on bodily functions.

I wish we spent more time on how bad the food was, how hard it would be to store enough food and oxygen and more about the psychology of long duration flights. And less time on space poos.

Full Review:

I will try to do a full review, though I don't really know if that's gonna work.

I fell in love with all things space at the ripe old age of 11. I found a science textbook talking about space and started planning out my future like teenaged girls stereotypically plan out weddings. I would go to college and get my master's in aerospace engineering (learning Russian alongside it) then work at NASA where they would assign me as a mission specialist on a mission to Mars. I even had my little script of what I would say on Mars planned out. (In addition, I would fall in love with this equally smart guy who supported me and went along with me on the mission to keep me company.) I predicted all this would happen - well, now.

Obviously, life does NOT go like you plan at 11. I'm not stepping on Mars reciting my fabulously eloquent lines about how awesome it is to step on Mars, I don't work for NASA, and I didn't learn Russian (I know, I'm sad about that one too).

But I still have a soft spot for Mars. I still desperately want humans to reach out and go to Mars - even if it makes more economic and scientific sense to send robots. There is just something awesome about a group of people banding together for a peaceful goal that I love. It's what I pretend was going on during the American Lunar missions; I like to think something like this could still happen today, amidst the stupid Real Housewives reality shows and Adam Sandler's latest insult to humanity.

Mary Roach's "Packing for Mars" hinted that it might look at all the details needed to go to Mars. Well, the title anyway - the cover blurb makes it a bit more clear it's just about all the weird things in space that we take for granted on Earth.

And that's primarily what "Packing for Mars" is - a book about the strange way we work in space. Psychologically, biologically, and...biologically. Don't get me wrong, there was some fascinating stuff in here, about how people react in closed quarters to another person for extended time, about not bathing, about sexual relations in space, about eating squares of condensed food and what that does to your bowels, about urinating, about pooing...

Okay, okay, there is a LOT about body functions here. A LOT. Did you wonder how astronauts poo? It's here. Did you want to see the evolution of the space toilet? It's here. Did you want to get into the analysis of a stream of urine? Yup, here also. How about dead skin and the stench after not bathing for 2 weeks and wearing a suit? Yuppers.

And yet, I'm surprised we didn't discuss more about the massive engineering feat it would be to store enough food and water and oxygen for a THREE YEAR voyage to Mars.

I feel that Mary Roach spent SO MUCH time on all the "gross parts" of space flight, she really didn't touch enough on the parts I wanted - what is growing food in space like? Is it viable? How about storing food? Storing "souvenirs" from Mars? What does radiation do? I don't even know, it's just I felt the overwhelming take-away, at the end of the book is just going to the bathroom is gross and dehumanizing and I want to take a 4 hour shower.

Roach has a humorous, yet educated tone, which I appreciated. It also was a breeze to read this. But I am knocking down from my initial 4 stars rating because I realized that I have been thinking of this book as "It's okay" not "really liked it".

It's a decent book with some interesting information, don't get me wrong. It's just not really what I expected/wanted to read about - a disappointment, because I've been pretty much ecstatic about reading this from the moment I saw it debut in hard cover. To wait so long until I am on vacation reading only books I WANT to read just to find it was "Okay"? Disappointing just doesn't cut it.
Profile Image for Claire Fuller.
Author 12 books2,151 followers
May 12, 2022
Oh, this is such fun. Mary Roach is probing, tenacious, inquisitive, and well, just funny. The subtitle is 'The Curious Science of Life in Space' and she goes into the greatest detail about how Japan has potential astronauts making 1000 paper cranes to decide which of them will go into space; what happens if you vomit in your spacesuit; sex in space - who's done it; going to the bathroom in space - as American's like to say - even if the bathroom is barely a curtain around a rather small toilet; what astronauts like to eat and what they leave on their plate, and so much more. There is real science here, but it's entertaining, and curious, as it says on the cover. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Laurie Notaro.
Author 19 books2,084 followers
February 13, 2018
I will read anything by Mary Roach. Of course, my favorite parts in this book were about farting and pooping in a space suit. Hilarious.
Profile Image for Brandon.
914 reviews235 followers
February 21, 2013
I've always maintained a passing interest in space travel and with my burgeoning love of Sci-Fi starting to develop, I thought that this was the right book to pick up. With Packing for Mars, Mary Roach takes the reader on a journey through the bizarre history of space travel and the toll it takes on the human body and psyche.

It turns out that my passing interest in space travel was just that - a passing interest. I found myself constantly drifting off during chapters and having to rewind over and over again which slowly became an exercise in frustration. That being said, there were some things that I found interesting. Scientists theorizing what would happen to the human body when subjected to zero gravity was mind-blowing. The knowledge that we have today about space travel is something we can certainly take for granted when looking back at how little we knew to start.

Apparently, my love/hate relationship with audio books is far from resolved. When you plug in those headphones and commit to listening to someone read you a book, you better hope that the reader does a good job and has a pretty tolerable voice. Unfortunately, I feel like Sandra Burr just didn't do it for me. I’m not sure why - maybe it had something to do with the dry way she approached the material. There’s a lot of humor in here and I feel like Burr just couldn't portray the subject matter in a right way.

It really hurts to hit Mary Roach with such heavy criticism because I can tell she was passionate about the subject material. However, as a casual consumer of space travel history, this book couldn't grab me and keep my attention for longer than the odd chapter. I definitely intend to check out something else Roach has written and take the traditional reading route.
Profile Image for Trudi.
615 reviews1,455 followers
August 25, 2012
3.5 stars

***I'm reposting this review in honor of Neil Armstrong (August 5, 1930 – August 25, 2012) who died today at the age of 82.
"That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." --Neil Armstrong
Well...that was...interesting. This book is so thoroughly researched. The amount of painstaking detail used to describe the epic sublime of space right down to the microscopic level of doing your "business" in zero gravity is impressive to say the least. As a side-effect though, I did find myself getting "fecal fatigued" and "vomit weary" more than once.
Don't get me wrong -- I applaud Mary Roach in her unapologetic approach to getting the details right, because this is a side of space exploration and the life of an astronaut we've never seen before (at least not in such unexpurgated glory and triumph). In other words, this is everything you ever thought you might like to know about traveling into the final frontier (and some things you could have happily gone your whole life without ever knowing, trust me on that) but were afraid to ask.

This book is chock full of interesting tidbits as well as several mind-blowing facts, all marinated in Roach's signature wry humor and breezy writing style. It really is a delightful romp (and you'll learn stuff too!) I already feel smarter. I also appreciated that Roach extended her scrutiny beyond NASA and dug up some colorful detail about the space programs of other countries, including my own.

It was Stephen's awesome review that brought this book to my attention, and despite a few cringe-worthy, grimacing moments of "ugh!", I'm really glad I read it, and I highly recommend that you do too!
Profile Image for Becky.
832 reviews155 followers
December 9, 2016
I have an awkward relationship with Mary Roach. I find her humor forced, blatant, and poorly timed and so it always falls flat to me. I realize that a lot of people really appreciate her humor, but it just doesn’t click for me. Actually, I bet I think she was really funny if I heard her talk, because potty humor IS my type of humor, but it just doesn’t seem to translate for me in her books.

That said, she researches these absolutely fascinating topics from angles that no one else would, and I totally appreciate that. I mean, really, she is willing to throw her energy and time into researching the history of pooping in space. INQUIRING MINDS REALLY DO WANT TO KNOW. If I had to tell anyone to listen to one chapter from this book it would totally be Chapter 14- the poop chapter. It is hilarious in its own right, poop literally floating around during Apollo missions, and she shies away from nothing. How could you not want to know?

If there is anything I learned in this book (and actually I learned A LOT so props to the author) its that astronauts have spent a lot of time living like filthy animals for science, and we are ALL better for it.

If you are looking for something a little strange, informative, and easily translatable to fodder for all sorts of awkward holiday-party small-talk then I really suggest this book.
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