Jill kindly sent me her copy of Packing for Mars by Mary Roach some time ago (thanks, Jill!), and I put off reading it for far too long. I recently picked it up and was quite glad I finally did so.
About the Book:
Have you ever wondered about the finer points of space travel? What happens to a human being who spends a few weeks without gravity, for instance, or maybe what sorts of psychological tests astronauts may go through before being sent into the void? Packing for Mars will answer these questions — and many, many more — in ways that are accessible, fascinating, and downright hilarious.
Packing for Mars was my first experience with Mary Roach, and let me tell you, she is one funny lady. The snorting and snickering on my part was nearly continuous, liberally interspersed with “Huh!” moments in which Roach answered random questions I hadn’t even known I’d had. If she treats all her books’ topics the way she treats space in Packing for Mars, I can see why she is such a favorite.
Roach has a way of poking her nose into topics that never would have crossed my mind, with no qualms about being persistent as required. I would not like to be a company official charged with satisfying this particular writer’s curiosity while adhering to any sort of privacy or secrecy policy! The book is arranged into 16 chapters, each of which tackles its own little space-related slice of life. There is a chapter on the effects of isolation and confinement on the psyche, another two on vomiting and using the bathroom in zero gravity, and sections on mission simulation, the logistics of sex in space, and the animals that have assisted in space research and testing. There is another on personal hygiene in a space suit. And of course, there is talk of space food.
Did you ever really ponder how much planning went into the flag the American astronauts planted on the moon’s surface so many years ago? It’s just a flag, right? Wrong. Not only did it add weight to the shuttle and require a special case on the craft’s exterior that would withstand launch and be easy for the astronauts to open with space-suited hands, it had to look like it was waving in a crisp breeze instead of just floating there limply, which is what it would actually do on the moon. The book is full of tidbits like this.
Roach also has a knack for making useful comparisons. Having trouble imagining an astronaut’s in-suit drink bag, for instance? Roach helpfully compares it to the more familiar CamelBak. This example is only one of many that help make Packing for Mars both accessible and informative.
For anyone with strong feelings — positive or negative — regarding footnotes, I should point out that Packing for Mars is rife with them. I tend to be indifferent to footnotes, but in this case I found they contained much interesting, tangential information, and they did not bother me at all.
Overall? A fun read that will answer all your questions and more, make you laugh at least a few times, and most likely teach you something in the process. If you, like me, are only an occasional nonfiction reader, Packing for Mars is a good one for you.