Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void
by Mary Roach, narrated by Sandra Burr
In Packing for Mars, you will learn how much volume of flatus a burrito causes the average human to expel, you will learn that Russian scientists regularly smuggle alcohol aboard to bribe cosmonauts to conduct their experiments carefully, and you’ll join Mary Roach as she digs through archives both astronomical and pornographic in an attempt to learn whether humans have ever had sex in space. As with her previous books, Roach takes us on a whirlwind tour of the people and places where research is being done, and uses her footnotes to keep us laughing throughout. A few thoughts:
- While it was interesting, this book scores higher on the grody scale than any of her previous books have done. I haven’t read Stiff, though. Spook had only the mildest grossouts, and Bonk‘s issues were challenges to my modesty rather than my stomach. Strangely, I thought the chapter on food prep was more disgusting than the chapter on evacuation. I think Roach intended it this way.
- I love the bits of dialogue Roach includes from oral histories and tapes of crew conversations with mission control. Jim Lovell and his partner on the Gemini missions were particularly funny.
- I listened to the audio of this book, so I wasn’t in danger of missing any of the footnotes. Be sure you consult them, if you read the physical book. They’re where she stashes her best comedic gems, like Groucho Marx mumbling asides to the audience.
- I didn’t realize how much your body maximizes efficiency all the time. Apparently astronauts lose massive bone density and weight in ways that don’t completely heal. When there was a crash coming back from the ISS, they weren’t as much worried that the astronaut wouldn’t be able to get out of the capsule, but that when she did she’d break a hip running away.
- I love the moments where Roach mentions her husband, who puts up with her science writing antics. I remember fondly the descriptions of talking him into joining her for intimate time in an MRI machine while she was writing Bonk. I’m not sure how that compares to having her store potable recycled (and purified) urine in their refrigerator.
Once again, Roach writes with intelligence, wit, and savvy about her science of choice. She covers a wide range of topics and speaks to scientists throughout the world. A great, entertaining read.