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Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void

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Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void Cover

ISBN13: 9780393068474
ISBN10: 0393068471
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Staff Pick

If you haven't read Mary Roach's previous bestsellers Bonk and Stiff (shame on you!), Packing for Mars is as good an introduction to Roach as you'll find. Space travel hasn't been this funny or intriguing since Douglas Adams — and best of all, it's true!
Recommended by Rico, Powells.com

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

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.

Review:

"Roach (Stiff) once again proves herself the ideal guide to a parallel universe. Despite all the high-tech science that has resulted in space shuttles and moonwalks, the most crippling hurdles of cosmic travel are our most primordial human qualities: eating, going to the bathroom, having sex and bathing, and not dying in reentry. Readers learn that throwing up in a space helmet could be life-threatening, that Japanese astronaut candidates must fold a thousand origami paper cranes to test perseverance and attention to detail, and that cadavers are gaining popularity over crash dummies when studying landings. Roach's humor and determined curiosity keep the journey lively, and her profiles of former astronauts are especially telling. However, larger questions about the 'worth' or potential benefits of space travel remain ostensibly unasked, effectively rendering these wild and well-researched facts to the status of trivia. Previously, Roach engaged in topics everyone could relate to. Unlike having sex or being dead, though, space travel pertains only to a few, leaving the rest of us unsure what it all amounts to. Still, the chance to float in zero gravity, even if only vicariously, can be surprising in what it reveals about us. (Aug.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)

Review:

"Popular-science writer Roach entertainingly addresses numerous questions about life in outer space....A delightful, illuminating grab bag of space-flight curiosities." Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Review:

"Roach brings intrepid curiosity, sauciness, and chutzpah to the often staid practice of popular science writing....An impish and adventurous writer with a gleefully inquisitive mind and a stand-up comics timing, Roach celebrates human ingenuity (the odder the better), and calls for us to marshal our resources, unchain our imaginations, and start packing for Mars." Booklist

Review:

"[Roach] is part serious science journalist, part human guinea pig, part class clown, part stand-up comic. The combination of her topics, her research and her writing style is hard to resist." Oregonian

Review:

"[A]n often hilarious, sometimes queasy-making catalog of the strange stuff devised to permit people to survive in an environment for which their bodies are stupendously unsuited." New York Times

Review:

"Cool answers to questions about the void you didn't even know you had. An utterly fascinating account, made all the more entertaining by the author's ever-amused tone.An impish and adventurous writer with a gleefully inquisitive mind and stand-up comic's timing. A delightful, illuminating grab bag of space-flight curiosities. The author's writing comes across as reportorial, but with a clear sense of humor; even the footnotes are used to both informational and comedic effect." Time Out New York

Review:

"[Her] style is at its most substantial — and most hilarious — in the zero-gravity realm that Packing for Mars explores....As startling as it is funny." Janet Maslin

Review:

"Truly funny....Roach's writing is supremely accessible, but there's never a moment when you aren't aware of how much research she's done into unexplored reaches of space travel. This is the kind of smart, smirky stuff that Roach does so well." Geoff Nicholson

Book News Annotation:

After tackling such topics as the fate of cadavers, the existence of ghosts, and sex in scientific research, Mary Roach settles her gaze on the not-so-glamorous lives of astronauts, their training, and the quirky experiments performed in the name of space science. Roach's research sends her into the archives and into zero-gee flight in order to find answers to such questions as what happens when an astronaut vomits in his/her helmet, and whether or not it is feasible, or even possible, to have sex in a gravity-free environment. As informative as it is funny, this book will appeal to space enthusiasts, trivia whizzes, and anyone out for a good laugh. Included in the work is a bibliography and timeline of worldwide space achievements, but no index. Annotation ©2010 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

Synopsis:

The best-selling author of Stiff and Bonk explores the irresistibly strange universe of space travel and life without gravity.

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About the Author

Mary Roach is the author of Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, and Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void. She lives in Oakland, California.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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nrlymrtl, January 16, 2015 (view all comments by nrlymrtl)
I learned and I laughed. I read another chapter, quirked my eyebrow once again, and laughed some more. Packing for Mars is my third Mary Roach book and it is just as intriguing and entertaining as the other two, Stiff and Bonk. This book is about space ��" what we’ve pondered, what we’ve done, trials and tribulations of doing it, and what we hope to do next. I’ve never really paid much attention to the space program. I mean it currently isn’t much like Star Trek or Battle Star Galactica. So you all probably already know some of these facts.

About 90% of an International Space Station (ISS) mission is spent on repairing, assembling, or maintaining the station. Space stations have by and large dispensed with seats as there is no need due to zero gravity.

The early days of cross-cultural missions lead to some misunderstandings. One dude would occasionally light a bit of trimmed hair on fire. He was use to Spanish haircuts where the barber singes the ends of the hair. It made him feel at home while at the same time nauseating his colleagues. I have to wonder if he was making up the ‘Spanish barber’ part.

I learned that such a thing as Earth-sickness exists for some returning astronauts. A lot of study has gone into motion-sickness to benefit the space program. Unless you have a specially malformed inner ear, you get motion sickness to some degree when you go into space. Those little stones that roll around in you inner ear and sit on tiny hairs ��" allowing you to sense if you are lying on your side or standing upright ��" they float in space, same as everything else. There’s a great chapter is this book that talks about what havoc human vomit can wreak in a space suit, shuttle, or station. Regurgitation is nearly always inconvenient, but even more so with zero gravity. Oddly, guinea pigs and rabbits appear to be immune to motion sickness.

The Antarctic Research Stations have acted as impromptu astronaut training grounds and recruitment pool. For years, women were not allowed at the Antarctic Research Stations ��" mirroring Space. This despite the fact that women in general are smaller, more compact, and consume less food and water (based on studies and not just my snotty opinion). There is also some crater in northern Canada where extraterrestrial ATVs are tested out along with moon/Mars treading suits. We take the harshest environments Earth has to offer and try to pretend we’re on the moon or Mars, or the ISS. Except for that gravity bit. Oh, and lunar dust. Since there is no wind or water to take the edge off the dust particles of the moon, they remain sharp. With no gravity, the dust tends to coat everything.

There was a time when we didn’t know what zero gravity would do to a human ��" Madness? Would your eyes boil? Would internal organs fail? A series of tests were done over the years starting with animals in rockets. Eventually, we moved on to parabolic flights. This is basically like a roller coaster ��" up and down and up and down again. At the crest, we achieve about 20 seconds of zero Gs. Each flight usually consists of multiple crests. Parabolic tests continue on today ��" mostly for equipment, like new toilet designs. So if you sign up to test out equipment for space, you might end up in a special seat on a parabolic flight.

Approximately 50% of humans have the gut flora to produce methane in their flatulence. Hence, some people can light their toots on fire and some can’t. I bet you can guess which is preferable in an astronaut. Only body fluids exposed directly to a vacuum boil. So if you stick your arm out in space, your blood, as long as it remains on the inside, will not boil. I am not saying it’s good for you to wave your arm out in a vacuum. I’m just saying boiling body fluids won’t be one of your concerns. Still, don’t be a dumb ass.

In space, your organs float giving you a most desirable waist line. Blood also tends to pool in the upper half of the body, sending erroneous signals to the brain that you have too much blood. So two things happen: 1) you drop like 10+% of your water and 2) your body cuts back on blood production. If you stay in space long enough, when you come back you have to contend with the need to build your blood supply back up. Additionally, most astronauts suffer considerable bone loss. Most of this bone loss can be rebuilt over time.

I’ll leave this tidbit as a close ��" male dolphins have prehensile penises. Yeah ��" go ponder why that was in Packing for Mars.

What I Liked: Everything!; some of the most entertaining non-fiction I have read; so informative and laugh-worthy at the same time; now I have extra trivia to liven up the next boring office party!

What I Disliked: Nothing ��" this was a great book!
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
Maggie_S, August 21, 2013 (view all comments by Maggie_S)
Packing For Mars cements Mary Roach as the only science writer that I look forward to reading. I now know more than I ever thought I wanted to about personal plumbing, bathing, and digestion in zero gravity. And a ton of other stuff that is totally worth knowing!
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
Tung Yin, July 21, 2011 (view all comments by Tung Yin)
Mary Roach has become my favorite non-fiction science writer. She manages the incredibly neat feat of conveying a distinct personality through her writing, which is mildly mischievous, daring, brazen, and slightly juvenile. She asks questions about topics that I'm genuinely curious about but would be mortified to ask myself. Stuff relating to bodily functions, etc.

"Packing for Mars" is all about the human engineering issues involved in sending people on a long-term mission to Mars. How do you feed them? How do you bathe them in zero-gravity, where water doesn't spray out of a shower? Apparently the original astronauts became rather . . . rank. We actually studied how smelly people become when they can't wash themselves, and how clothes start to disintegrate under such conditions(!).

I've also read Roach's "Stiffed" (about cadavers) and her writing style carries over, regardless of the topic.
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View all 10 comments

Product Details

ISBN:
9780393068474
Author:
Roach, Mary
Publisher:
W. W. Norton & Company
Subject:
Astrophysics & Space Science
Subject:
Aeronautics & Astronautics
Subject:
Space biology
Subject:
General-General
Copyright:
Publication Date:
20100831
Binding:
Hardcover
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
Y
Pages:
334
Dimensions:
8.6 x 5.9 x 1 in 1.07 lb

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Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void Used Hardcover
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$9.95 In Stock
Product details 334 pages W. W. Norton & Company - English 9780393068474 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

If you haven't read Mary Roach's previous bestsellers Bonk and Stiff (shame on you!), Packing for Mars is as good an introduction to Roach as you'll find. Space travel hasn't been this funny or intriguing since Douglas Adams — and best of all, it's true!

"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Roach (Stiff) once again proves herself the ideal guide to a parallel universe. Despite all the high-tech science that has resulted in space shuttles and moonwalks, the most crippling hurdles of cosmic travel are our most primordial human qualities: eating, going to the bathroom, having sex and bathing, and not dying in reentry. Readers learn that throwing up in a space helmet could be life-threatening, that Japanese astronaut candidates must fold a thousand origami paper cranes to test perseverance and attention to detail, and that cadavers are gaining popularity over crash dummies when studying landings. Roach's humor and determined curiosity keep the journey lively, and her profiles of former astronauts are especially telling. However, larger questions about the 'worth' or potential benefits of space travel remain ostensibly unasked, effectively rendering these wild and well-researched facts to the status of trivia. Previously, Roach engaged in topics everyone could relate to. Unlike having sex or being dead, though, space travel pertains only to a few, leaving the rest of us unsure what it all amounts to. Still, the chance to float in zero gravity, even if only vicariously, can be surprising in what it reveals about us. (Aug.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
"Review" by , "Popular-science writer Roach entertainingly addresses numerous questions about life in outer space....A delightful, illuminating grab bag of space-flight curiosities."
"Review" by , "Roach brings intrepid curiosity, sauciness, and chutzpah to the often staid practice of popular science writing....An impish and adventurous writer with a gleefully inquisitive mind and a stand-up comics timing, Roach celebrates human ingenuity (the odder the better), and calls for us to marshal our resources, unchain our imaginations, and start packing for Mars."
"Review" by , "[Roach] is part serious science journalist, part human guinea pig, part class clown, part stand-up comic. The combination of her topics, her research and her writing style is hard to resist."
"Review" by , "[A]n often hilarious, sometimes queasy-making catalog of the strange stuff devised to permit people to survive in an environment for which their bodies are stupendously unsuited."
"Review" by , "Cool answers to questions about the void you didn't even know you had. An utterly fascinating account, made all the more entertaining by the author's ever-amused tone.An impish and adventurous writer with a gleefully inquisitive mind and stand-up comic's timing. A delightful, illuminating grab bag of space-flight curiosities. The author's writing comes across as reportorial, but with a clear sense of humor; even the footnotes are used to both informational and comedic effect."
"Review" by , "[Her] style is at its most substantial — and most hilarious — in the zero-gravity realm that Packing for Mars explores....As startling as it is funny."
"Review" by , "Truly funny....Roach's writing is supremely accessible, but there's never a moment when you aren't aware of how much research she's done into unexplored reaches of space travel. This is the kind of smart, smirky stuff that Roach does so well."
"Synopsis" by , The best-selling author of Stiff and Bonk explores the irresistibly strange universe of space travel and life without gravity.
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