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

3.92 of 5 stars 3.92  ·  rating details  ·  29,059 ratings  ·  3,003 reviews
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 weirdn
Hardcover, 334 pages
Published August 2nd 2010 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published January 1st 2010)
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Space…the final frontier:
where intrepid heroes break free from the mortal bonds of Mother Earth to experience such singular marvels as:

1. Fecal popcorning (definition forthcoming);
2. Condom-shaped urinal devices (with different sizes for, um, different sizes);
3. Weightless Flight Regurgitation Phenomenon (Hint: turns out gravity is a vital part of both swallowing food and keeping it locked down in the tummy);
4. The pleasures, subject to NASA regulations, of Zero-G copulation; and
5. The breat
I’m a big space geek and have spent countless hours reading or watching documentaries about manned space flight. I’ve seen a space shuttle launch and been through the Kennedy Space Center a couple of times. I went and saw the traveling exhibit of Gus Grissom’s capsule that was retrieved from the ocean floor and refurbished. So I thought I knew something about NASA and astronauts.

However, I’d never heard the phrase 'fecal popcorning' before.

These are the kind of tidbits you get in Packing for Mar
Will Byrnes
Maybe she could have titled the book The Right Stiff.

I needed to have tissues handy while reading Mary Roach’s latest. No, it is not because it made me sad, but because I was laughing so hard my eyes were gushing. Mary Roach has had that effect on me before. I have read two of her books. Stiff and Spook are greatly entertaining. She has a sense of humor that encompasses a pre-adolescent affinity for the scatological. OK, she likes fart jokes. Blast off, Mary.

She has an appreciation for the abs
Petra X
Note: the dolphin-sex thing appears to be a hoax. Shame that. I like the idea of space sex having to be a threesome.

Why the Space Program Costs so Much. Because its run by a load of backward-thinking dickheads, contrary to what you might think.

Mary Roach seems to have an obsession with poo. I did actually want to know about toilet facilities in space, but not two-chapters worth of knowledge. Similarly a chapter about sex, although no-one apart from one Russian wanker (literally) actually admits
Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways
Rating: 4.5* of five

The Publisher Says: 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
Jul 06, 2013 Carol. rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people looking for light sciencey reads

Roach is well known for her earlier books, Stiff (about human cadavers), Bonk (science and sex) and Spook (the afterlife). In Packing, she takes on the US space program, and how it’s dealt with many of the everyday biological issues we take for granted– such as washing, eating, and urinating. However, willingness to take on the scatological is just part of her hook; she integrates information about the program in general as well as Earth-based research supporting it.

I learned a lot more of the e
There was a rule in my house growing up: no talking about “bodily functions”. When my older sister would start going on about how she clogged the toilet or an episode of smelly burps, my very Southern mother would intervene. “Jill, there will no discussion of bodily functions at this dinner table. Would anyone like more peach cobbler?”

Mary Roach would make an interesting dinner guest at my parents’ house. Her book is overflowing with bodily functions: vomit, body odor, pooping/peeing, and sex i
I did not expect to be so captivated by this book. After all, I barely paid attention when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in 1969. I was a very mature seven year old, and I had seen better space "movies" at the local theater.
My interest in the space program remained low while I was growing up. Of course, I watched and cried over the Challenger and Columbia disasters. But otherwise, I was mostly oblivious.
I suppose it was not until Nasa announced that the shuttle flights were coming to an end
When I was in the sixth grade we had a science project. I remember this well, we had to learn all about rockets and space travel. When we were to reach the end of all the information, we were going to have a test on what we learned.

Nothing new there right? Oh but there was……

The person who had the highest grade on the test was to be the one to “launch” a rocket, you know, the model rockets made from cardboard with a built in parachute for its descent…the ones that you would sometimes put a toad
I’ve read two other Roach books and have really loved them. They tick all of the boxes – they are witty, wise, fascinatingly interesting and written by someone with an eye that unfailingly spots human foibles. The beauty of her writing is that rather than pointing and laughing, she embrace our foibles and makes us fell all the more human because of them.

Do you know that feeling you get when you read someone and think, ‘God, I would really love to meet you, just to listen to you talk?’ Well, Ms
Crystal Starr Light
Bullet Review:

Huh. Not quite what I was expecting - more a "look at all these weird things in space" than anything close to a checklist of things necessary for a Mars mission. And those weird things seem to focus A LOT on bodily functions.

I wish we spent more time on how bad the food was, how hard it would be to store enough food and oxygen and more about the psychology of long duration flights. And less time on space poos.

Full Review:

I will try to do a full review, though I don't really know if
There's a bit of space science in this book, but it's mostly a humorous, immensely scatalogical romp through the space program. By reading this book, you will gain a treasure trove of trivia, ranging from astronaut food, defecation, odors, nausea, to the earliest, non-human astronauts who were shot up into space on rockets. You will learn the real reason why women were not enlisted as astronauts in the early days of NASA, which turns out to be the exact same reason why Russians did include women ...more
[4 Stars] This book was incredibly fascinating although a bit disturbing from time to time. You get to know some of the details about all of the strange things that accompany thoughts of space travel: how to you poop in space, what is the screening process like for astronauts, food in space, what kind of strange experiments and tests must be employed to test things for space travel, chimps in space, and so much more. I thoroughly enjoyed it even though I thought it was a bit slow. I wish the boo ...more
3.5 stars

***I'm reposting this review in honor of Neil Armstrong (August 5, 1930 – August 25, 2012) who died today at the age of 82.
"That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." --Neil Armstrong
Well...that was...interesting. This book is so thoroughly researched. The amount of painstaking detail used to describe the epic sublime of space right down to the microscopic level of doing your "business" in zero gravity is impressive to say the least. As a side-effect though, I did f
I've always maintained a passing interest in space travel and with my burgeoning love of Sci-Fi starting to develop, I thought that this was the right book to pick up. With Packing for Mars, Mary Roach takes the reader on a journey through the bizarre history of space travel and the toll it takes on the human body and psyche.

It turns out that my passing interest in space travel was just that - a passing interest. I found myself constantly drifting off during chapters and having to rewind over a
Mary Roach has made quite a career writing quirky, irreverent books on some of the weirder corners of science. She's covered corpses, the afterlife, sex, and now space. So all the cool subjects. As it turns out, space exploration is a rich and varied subject. Every aspect of life in space has to be carefully, exhaustively researched beforehand, after all. Right down to, ahem, elimination procedures. In the hands of another writer, all of this detail might become overwhelming, or boring, maybe ki ...more
Wow! An excellent piece of very readable research of our journey into space & all the considerations for a trip to Mars in, hopefully, 2030. As usual, Roach captured the human side & presented it with plenty of humor.

The research had to be difficult for her in many cases. NASA needs publicity to stay funded, but any negative publicity can hurt them immensely, especially since Congress & the VP oversee them. (LBJ basically squashed any females in space for years with a pen stroke.) Co
Jackie "the Librarian"
This book is funny, gross, and fascinating, and I am SO not suited to be an astronaut! If YOU want to be an astronaut, you’d better have a strong stomach and a big tolerance for grossness in general.
I had NO IDEA a book about travel in space would read like a scene from a Judd Apatow movie, but it turns out human waste of many varieties is a big issue for NASA. Mary Roach tells us about how space agencies try to prepare astronauts for space travel, and study how the trainees react, and she goes
Science fiction movies and novels dealing with long exploration missions to deep space rarely deal with the complexities of our bodies surviving during the long journey through space.

Or as the old question asks, "Where does Captain Kirk go to the bathroom?"

Mary Roach's "Packing for Mars" not only looks at where Kirk would go, but how such a thing would be possible. It also looks at a lot of other questions that scientists and NASA have to and have addressed during humanity's quest to explore spa
Sonja Arlow
India’s first Mars mission, scheduled for Nov 2014 will cost LESS than the budget of the space film Gravity.

After having finished this book I had to read that above statement a few times for it to really sink in. Either space travel has gotten vastly cheaper or Hollywood has finally gone nuts.

This book covers everything a layperson would ever want to know about space travel and a host of things you would have preferred not to know. No longer does bravery and a guts n glory attitude maketh an ast
Packing for Mars is like Bonk, Stiff and Spook (her three previous books) but in space. Awesome! Everything is better in space. And hilariously entertaining.

I have a huge author crush on Mary Roach. She isn't embarrassed by any subject. (I know this for a fact, I got to ask her at her book reading.) She won't pass up a Howdy Doody joke when discussing the difficulties in pooing in zero-G. She also scammed a free copy of zero-G porn movie series and watching it to 'research' zero-G sex. She asks
A decent book with interesting details about space sciences and the biology of human spaceflight. However, the author felt compelled to display her snarky, adolescent humor and go off on tangents on subjects that she must have felt were funny, but which is merely unnecessary gossip and/or gross little anecdotes. It seemed obvious that she was probably jealous of the scientists and astronauts whom she interviewed, failed to understand the pragmatic and hard-headed approach that engineers and scie ...more
I had the opportunity to see Mary Roach speak at the author’s breakfast at BEA along with Jon Stewart, Condoleezza Rice & John Grisham. I had never heard of her – neither had most of the people attending the breakfast and it became a running joke. Even in the advertisements for the event she was shunned. “Stewart….Rice….Grisham…and more”.
Turns out she was the highlight of the event. Even giving Jon Stewart a run for is money in the comedy department. She is smart, funny and an excellent sto
You never knew astronauts had it so hard. Mary Roach takes an irreverent look at space travel, and answers all your questions about sex and pooping in space. Actually, she only speculates about the sex -- NASA and the astronauts remain mum on the subject. But while Roach has an informal, sometimes juvenile style (this book is meant to be entertaining, and isn't exactly science journalism), she does research a lot of subjects in exhaustive detail that you've probably always wondered about but did ...more
Margaret Heller
If Mary Roach wrote a book about the science of watching paint dry, I would happily read it. She exhibits a great and infectious joy in learning about her subjects, no matter what they are. Roach's approach is a healthy dose of prurience combined with unabated glee to dig into the heart of the topic. She experienced weightlessness, drank recycled urine, visited the space toilet camera, and many other adventures. The process of research comes out in her sly and clever footnotes and descriptions o ...more
Jan 12, 2015 Wanda rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: fans of Mary Roach, fans of the Space Program
Let me begin with a shout out to Mary Roach—Mary, I would be willing to pay to have an extended coffee or a meal with you. Your sense of humour and the things that you are curious about, both of those qualities match the same part in my brain extremely well. We would either be BFFs or we would annoy the crap out of each other. Speaking of crap, I worked at a zoo for 17 years—I can discuss sex, death, poop and vomit over a meal without missing a bite. If you could get anyone in the lunch room the ...more
Dec 14, 2010 Richard rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Fans of the humor inherent in science.
Recommended to Richard by: Down to a Science Science Café
Mary Roach now has a lock on a certain kind of book. Science is her beat, and her shtick is to make it funny —often hilariously funny. But be forewarned: her take on “funny” means she is going to violate any taboo that gets in the way of making you cringe and groan at the same time you laugh.

In her first book, Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife , she did the topic as funny-but-creepy, and hadn’t yet glommed on to her now-predictable gross-out brand of humor.

That came in brilliantly with her
In the wake of the Curiosity landing and Neil Armstrong's death, I was very interested in Mary Roach's take on space travel, and what I discovered was this:

Space travel suuuuuuuuuucks.

Man was not meant to go to space, you guys. Roach covers the many, many ways our bodies are simply not equipped to deal with zero-gravity, not to mention long-term space travel, and the many, many ways NASA has found to get around those limitations. She talks to astronauts and NASA scientists directly, and she also
Interested in vomit, small spaces, food ruination or fecal photograph? If you said "Yes?" to any of these questions then perhaps you should seek professional help, but while you're sitting in the waiting room, take Packing for Mars with you.

My first Mary Roach book brought home by my librarian girlfriend after she decide that journalistic narrative non-fiction was currently my favorite genre; Packing hooked the 8 year old boy in me so immediately that I asked to pick up the rest of her books. He
Space. The final frontier. To boldly go where no man has gone before. I have always dreamed of going into space since I was very young. To explore the Moon and the Solar System and one day the universe.

Well dreams of youth tend towards folly and none moreso than this one. I could never be an astronaut but that doesn't stop me from having a love of all things space. But it was with a touch of trepidation that I picked this book up. The previous Mary Roach books I've read have not been the best bo
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Mary Roach is the author of Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers and Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife. Her writing has appeared in such publications as Salon, GQ, Vogue, and the New York Times Magazine. She lives in Oakland, California.

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More about Mary Roach...
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife My Planet: Finding Humor in the Oddest Places

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“Yes, the money could be better spent on Earth. But would it? Since when has money saved by government redlining been spent on education and cancer research? It is always squandered. Let's squander some on Mars. Let's go out and play.” 31 likes
“The nobility of the human spirit grows harder for me to believe in. War, zealotry, greed, malls, narcissism. I see a backhanded nobility in excessive, impractical outlays of cash prompted by nothing loftier than a species joining hands and saying “I bet we can do this.” Yes, the money could be better spent on Earth. But would it? Since when has money saved by government red-lining been spent on education and cancer research? It is always squandered. Let’s squander some on Mars. Let’s go out and play.” 19 likes
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