February 7th, 2011


Book Review: Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void, by Mary Roach

One-line summary: Everything you ever wanted to know about vomiting, sweating, pooping, wanking, and dying in space.

W.V. Norton & Company, 2010, 336 pages

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.

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Verdict: Packing for Mars is an irreverent book about a serious subject. Space travel involves challenges, discomforts, and dangers you've never thought about but astronauts and engineers have to when sending people into a place human beings weren't meant to go. It may not make you want to be an astronaut, but it will give you a serious appreciation for just how daunting a mission to Mars or beyond will be.