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

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



One thing is for sure about traveling in space. It can get messy.


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.
©2010 Mary Roach (P)2010 Brilliance Audio, Inc.


‘Packing for Mars’ is an examination of what it takes to put humans into space for a prolonged period of time. The book covers the daily challenges of life in space. It deals with everything from food and clothing to going to the bathroom and the psychological tests performed by different space agencies on potential astronauts. Yes, there’s even a section on sex in space.
This is a book about the science of space travel, but it is also a history lesson. When it comes to space food, you’ll learn all about the different things that were tested and considered prior to the development of current food.
The most disturbing chapter in the book concerns the history of going to the bathroom in outer space. I would advise not trying to eat while listening to this section. You don’t need to imagine escaped turds floating around the cabin because Roach helpfully includes portions of NASA transcripts in which such matters are discussed.
Essentially, ‘Packing for Mars’ strives to answer all of the questions that people would have about what it is like to live and work in outer space but would probably be too embarrassed to ask. You don’t have to ask the odd questions that would make people at NASA want to block your phone number and send all of your email to the junk folder because Roach has already done it. The mix of direct interviews, mission transcripts and Roach’s willingness to take part in experiments when the opportunity presents itself are what make ‘Packing for Mars’ such an informative and entertaining read.


Mary Roach is the author of several books exploring different topics of a scientific nature. I’ve yet to read a Mary Roach book that didn’t entertain me. I’ve also never read a Mary Roach book that didn’t make my stomach churn to one degree or another, and ‘Packing for Mars’ is no different.
The fact is that Roach’s writing is very easy to follow and mixed with just the right amount of humor. In fact, the random notes that she sprinkles through each chapter are the most amusing parts of her books.


I enjoyed listening to Sandra Burr’s narration of the book. In the future, when I decide it is time to listen to this book again, I’m likely going to enjoy her performance again. However, it isn’t a performance that I’m going to remember very well a month from now.


The track sounds as good as you would hope. There are no glitches, and the volume level is consistent throughout. There are no sound effects, which is incredibly good news considering some of the topics discussed. There is some relaxing music that plays during the book’s introduction and conclusion, but it certainly isn’t distracting.
Most of the book chapters are given two chapter stops on the track. Obviously there is one at the beginning of the chapter where it belongs, but most also have a second chapter stop that puts you approximately in the middle of the actual book chapter. While this is obviously not a problem, the truth is none of the chapters are really all that long to begin with.


‘Packing for Mars’ is a slightly misleading title. The book concentrates more on living in outer space in general than it does with the specifics of a mission to Mars. Regardless, reading this book should give you a better sense of what a massive undertaking a mission like that would actually be.
‘Packing for Mars’ is informative, entertaining, funny and a little disgusting. It is also something that is likely to remain relevant as long as there are humans going into space.


Title Author Narrator Publisher Genre Release Date Running Time Score
Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void Mary Roach Sandra Burr Brilliance Audio Science and Technology 08/02/2010 10 hours, 28 minutes 8/10


A copy of ‘Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void’ was purchased from Audible for review.