Title: Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void
Author: Mary Roach
Release Date: August 2, 2010
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Co.
Rating: 4 out of 5
In Packing for Mars, Mary Roach takes on the science of space travel. Rather than focusing on traditional science, such as escape velocity, Roach looks at humans living in space – what are the psychological, physical and biological implications and results when it comes to humans and space travel?
When I first heard that Mary Roach was writing a book about space travel, I was at once intrigued and hesitant. On one hand, while I haven’t read anything by Mary Roach before, I’ve heard amazing things. I knew she’d give the subject the in-depth treatment it deserved and it would be an enjoyable read. Additionally, I was really happy to see that a book about space flight was getting mainstream attention, as most don’t. However, I was hesitant because I have read a lot about space flight – would it have any new information for me, or would I be disappointed by its contents?
In the end, I was really pleased with Packing for Mars. Roach takes on an almost entirely unexplored facet of space travel – its effect on the astronauts and people involved. She reviews the physical, emotional, and biological effects of space travel, from bathroom issues in zero g to the benefits and drawbacks of an all-liquid diet to the effect of space travel on bone density. The entire aim of the book is in the title – what will it take to get to Mars? If we send astronauts there, what shape will they be in when they arrive? (As a space fan, I have to say I love that this is the point of the book because I would like to see us put together a Mars mission in the future).
Roach is very witty, her sense of humor evident on each page. Admittedly, there were some pages that I skimmed because I can take only so much potty humor (literally), but generally her wit served to soften the information for the reader. Additionally, it’s clear that Roach did her research before writing Packing for Mars. There’s an entire chapter-by-chapter bibliography in the back of the book. While I do wish she had included more astronaut memoirs for the personal touch (after all, they are the people who went up there), she had the science part of the equation more than covered.
I really did find the science of this book fascinating. The information on what space flight does to human bone density was especially interesting, as my husband’s uncle is an astronaut and broke his hip after returning from a six month stint on the International Space Station. Doctors speculated it was because of his experiences in space; now I understand why. Additionally, her review of the destruction of the space shuttle Columbia was fresh and interesting. I really appreciated the time and effort she put into each of her chapters, and her enthusiasm was palpable.
Packing for Mars was an enjoyable and entertaining read from beginning to end. It never dragged, and I appreciated the insight Roach provided into the science of human spaceflight. I also agreed with many of her opinions, including the statement that if you only read one astronaut memoir, read Riding Rockets by Mike Mullane (a rare, five-star review for me). Roach is an engaging, talented writer, and I’m definitely planning on going back and reading some of her earlier works.