PACKING FOR MARS
by Mary Roach
Non-Fiction: Popular Science
W.W. Norton; Aug. 2010
Hardcover; 334 pages
I first heard about Mary Roach on the Bookrageous Podcast a year or two ago, and I really enjoyed listening to Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex on audio. I was really excited to find a copy of Packing for Mars on the bargain shelf at Barnes & Noble! (The bookseller seemed surprised, too. “This was on the bargain table? Wow, awesome! Hey other bookseller, did you see that this book is on sale?!”) It turned out to be the perfect read for my family road trip this summer. I got to learn awesome things AND share them with my (increasingly annoyed) family members!
ANYWAY. Mary Roach is a popular science writer who writes what is probably the funnest science you will ever read. She makes complex topics very accessible, and she has a delightful if somewhat gross sense of humor.
In Packing for Mars, Roach explores the history and science of space travel. It’s even stranger than you might think. It’s been about three or four months since I actually read this book (bad blogger, I know), so I can’t remember many specifics. However, I do remember feeling my mind constantly explode with weird new information. For example, there’s a charming chapter dedicated to how astronauts poop in space. (That chapter made for some really lovely dinner conversation with Tom one night. Because we’re classy.)
I have a feeling Roach could write about the history of sliced bread, and it would be interesting. But space travel is already fascinating! I learned all about the different animals that have been to space and how terrible it is to vomit in your helmet during a spacewalk. Oh, and Roach goes into all of these studies done on Earth for Space reasons, like to see how the human body reacts to not being active for long periods of time. (For real, there was a study that had participants on total bed rest for MONTHS.) It’s CRAZY.
But can I get back to how awesome Mary Roach is? She manages to weasel her way into interviews with the most interesting people and participate in incredible events. For example, after much wheedling, she finds herself on a parabolic flight. A parabolic flight is one in which a jet flies super fast in parabolic formations. This means that after the jet reaches the top of the parabola and begins descending, the passengers are weightless for about 30 seconds, until the jet begins its next ascent. These flights are used to test a lot of equipment that will be used in space. Anyway, Mary wrangles her way onto one of these flights, and in the thrill of being weightless, she kind of forgets to take real notes.
“When I get back to my room to review my notes, I find that I’ve written nothing of substance. I wasn’t so much taking notes as testing my Fisher Space Pen. My notes say: “WOO” and “yippee.”
So, the moral of the story is that Mary Roach is awesome, and you should all read this book.