The beauty of reading a book by Mary Roach is it doesn’t matter if you’ve never read any of her work before, you’re still going to be thoroughly entertained and will learn much more than you’d ever see on the Discovery Channel. After the bestselling success of Stiff and Bonk, Packing for Mars gives readers a course on the history of astronauts and the space race, as well as where NASA is possibly headed in the next few decades.
When We Left Earth is a fantastic documentary about astronauts and space, as we see these incredibly brave men and women (and a few animals) go boldly where no one has gone before and more importantly how they got there. Packing for Mars is the unusual yet perfect companion, as Mary Roach goes boldly where few researchers and journalists have gone before. But that’s the key with Roach: she doesn’t take no for an answer and never gives up. In Stiff, she spent a long time staring at and studying corpses; in Bonk, she and her husband actually engaged in coitus for an experiment. In Packing for Mars, while she doesn’t make it into space (she isn’t an astronaut and a seat on a private flight beyond Earth is too expensive), she does get to ride what is colloquially known as the “vomit comet” and experience true weightlessness.
Roach explores and researches thorough answers to questions you’ve probably been asking yourself while watching astronauts do what they do best: how do they shower and keep clean (many experiments were done on how long the human body can last, clothed, without cleaning; as well as the effects of body odor on other crewmembers); what is astronaut food really like and how do they eat it (it was a long hard road to perfect this); how astronauts go to the bathroom (there are a number of methods which Roach explores and discusses with no reservations); has anyone had sex in space? (you’ll have to read the book to find that out). Roach travels the globe, meeting with many NASA personnel, as well as traveling to Moscow to meet with renowned cosmonauts.
Packing for Mars will entertain you in so many ways, no matter what you’re looking to get out of this book. Ultimately, you will laugh, smile, gag, and feel – when you reach the last page – that there’s a lot you didn’t know about astronauts and space.
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Originally written on October 27, 2010 ©Alex C. Telander.