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Thoroughly enjoyed this book on the history of space travel - from the first test rockets, to the Appollo landing, to planning for a manned expedition to Mars. What's unique about Mary is humor and her ability to ask the questions no one asks in conventional histories. She covers everything from eating, to pooping, to sex in space. And while that might sound like tabloid journalism, dealing with the basic human functions raises truly profound scientific questions and problems of men and women in space.

I remember as a little kid trying to stay to watch the Moon Landing with my Dad (fell asleep despite my best efforts). Mary has managed in her book to capture the imagination and that initial excitement of sending Man to the Moon as well as reminding of us the dangers involved and shines on a spotlight on the dedicated scientists who have made this happen and continue to work toward further human exploration in space.
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on January 16, 2014
This is the 3rd book by Mary Roach I've read and none have been disappointing. She's a thorough researcher and has an engaging and humorous style. Packing for Mars is timely, given the lottery for people to go to Mars, and she covers all the aspects--even the ones that no one wants to talk about--regarding space travel, from the beginning to the present of the book. She uses a lot of amusing turns of phrase and that brings out the grins, the laughs, and the smirks. Wonderful book!
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on July 19, 2017
Bough it for my husband, he loves Mary Roach books! He just started it, and she is just as good a writer in this book.
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on March 25, 2011
This is a lovely little book. I read Ms Roach's Stiff several years ago and I found her then to be a delightful writer ... light, lively, witty and informative. I was nearly three quarters of the way through this particular book (during a period of chronic insomnia) before I realized that I had read her before. I have to say that space exploration is not an especial interest of mine usually but, as in her book on cadavers (and death in general), Ms Roach has taken an offbeat look at a subject in a hugely entertaining way. Although each chapter is linked together with a segue (that in the hands of another author might be too contrived or 'cutesy') the various topics they deal with could easily stand alone as articles or topics in and of themselves. This makes this book ideal for an enjoyable, lighthearted read. I intend to purchase other titles from this author.
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on February 20, 2012
I'm on my 3rd book by Mary. Packing for Mars is excellent. Before I opened the book I really had no idea what the challenges were for a mission to mars. I thought landing a spacecraft on mars and getting off would be mostly what the book was about but I was completely amazed that the hardest thing to deal with in a mars mission is ourselves.

Definitely worth checking out.
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on December 8, 2016
Maybe it's a bit too glib, or perhaps I was just disappointed at how little this resembled the heroic images that I still carry from Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff. At least at first. Everything related to space exploration nowadays seems very cumbersome and overwrought: top-heavy with procedure, safety rules (ironically), highly focused on the acutely mundane (unfortunately with good reason), heavily bureaucratic, and largely uninspiring.
Then we got into motion sickness, pooping in space, and drinking one's own urine. And the book turned quirky and entertaining enough to hold my interest. Roach has a bit of a specialty: the gleeful gross-out. I suppose it is interesting to wonder how a person might unmessily defecate in space or deal with body odours when encapsulated with like-stinking colleagues, and difficult to imagine it a lifelong professional pursuit for a Lab Coat. The logistics required to take a dump in space during an Apollo mission without coating one's colleagues in your excrement makes extended fasting seem like a great idea. So does the prospect of weeks spent eating dried birdseed and glue without barfing.
It was not quite the riveting read that I expected. Informative and sometimes amusing, but sometimes a bit scattered and not particularly smoothly written. I might have ranked this higher, except for the slightly annoying wink-wink, let's-go-off-on-a-clever-tangent writing, and the fact that I had already read Stiff first. Somehow the author's previous book about the general grossness of cadavers was a bit more inspiring, perhaps because we all end up there despite our best efforts, while the ins-and-outs (mostly outs) of bodily functions seem strangely distanced while in space. However, It seemed like the author hugely enjoyed her research for this book; her bouncy enthusiasm kept it readable. Mars draws strongly on anecdotes and personal interviews instead of direct citation - it's definitely a light read, an informal, chatty book aimed firmly at the layman.
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on March 21, 2011
loved this book! Mary's writing is a perfect marriage between technical tidbits and quirky, slightly irreverent humour. If you were ever curious about how people handle body functions in space, or whether or not zero gravity sex is possible - this is the book for you.

It's evident that Mary throws herself into her research travelling all throughout North America, Europe and Asia to get the details on topics I bet everyone wonders about, but not many ask. This books provides hilarious stories of how astronauts are picked (Japan's astronauts really do fold paper cranes), and a great account of many of the animals who came before humans in the space race. There is even some self effacing details on Mary's attempt to poop like a space walker.

One extra cool thing, was that I read this book on my eReader so every time there was an end note, all I had to do was click a button, and it took me right there to read it in context with no flipping pages to the back of the book. Great way to read ALL of the book and get everything out of it.

For more reviews visit [...].
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on April 19, 2016
I had never heard of the author or the book before a recommendation from a friend. I am not entirely certain it is properly titled. It is more a history of the challenges of putting human organisms in space. That being said it is a fascinating read by thorough researcher and a truly gifted writer. I intend to read all her other books as well.
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on August 27, 2012
Combine equal parts of Sylvia Branzei's 'Grossology' and the Bathroom Readers' Institute's 'Uncle John's Bathroom Reader' series, make mention of something coming out of (or going into) the anus in nearly every chapter, add a thin pretext of future Mars expeditions, then glaze it over with stories of Astro-chimp masturbation and prehensile dolphin penises - Voila! - You now have an idea of what to expect from Mary Roach's 'Packing for Mars.' (Be sure to wash it all down with a nice chilled glass of charcoal filtered urine - Ms. Roach describes this beverage as "sweet...restorative and surprisingly drinkable" - Yum).

Okay...perhaps the aforementioned description of 'Packing for Mars' is hyperbolic and a little bit unfair. To her credit, Ms. Roach seems to have put forth painstaking efforts in her research (she also includes long, ancillary foot notes on almost every page of her book). Moreover, through her emails and interviews with cosmonauts, astronauts, NASA personnel, etc., she manages to coax some rather candid information about seldom discussed issues/problems associated with space travel (e.g., personal hygiene, lavatory practices, sexual activity, etc.) Parts of this book were truly insightful, and from that perspective, I say "kudos" to Ms. Roach for her efforts.

That being said, I have to honestly admit that I was relieved to finally finish the book.

In essence, 'Packing for Mars' is 16 vignette-style chapters that are, at best, tenuously linked in any cohesive fashion. I would argue that, with the exception of maybe the last portions of the book, you could jumble these chapters into any order that you pleased and it wouldn't detract from a general understanding of the material.
At times, it seems that the book's context of outer-space missions serves as mere window dressing for Ms. Roach's unabashed desire to write graphically about "taboo" bodily functions. She seems to have a particular fetish with all things associated with the anus. Without exaggeration, nearly every chapter has as least one reference to something associated with this part of the body (e.g., defecation, flatulence, stool sample storage, rectal catheters, etc.) She even briefly mentions viewing her own anus on a closed-circuit camera while testing out the Johnson Space Center positional trainer (a.k.a., the "potty cam"). However, by putting this information into the context of "space exploration," her writing is magically glossed over as being a brazen and "drolly funny" scientific endeavor rather than a crass and lowbrow collection of essays. I don't deny that some of it is interesting. However, I have a hard time believing that conservative-leaning radio talk shows such as the Twin Cities' "Garage Logic" would have been allowed to hawk this book had the scatological issues not been subsumed (albeit, at times, very minimally) into the more noble issue of space exploration. (The good ol' boys at "Garage Logic" had a great time guffawing about the part of the book mentioning astronaut turds breaking free of their confines and floating around the work areas during space missions).
In addition, for a book with the word "Mars" in the title, there really isn't much discussion about Mars at all; only toward the end of the book does Ms. Roach begins to scratch the surface about past, present, and future Mars exploration. In the end, when she's finally asking her apex question - Is it worth it to go to Mars (at a cost of $500 billion)? - she falls flat by saying "Yes, the money could be better spent on Earth. But would it? [M]oney saved by government redlining ... is always squandered. Let's squander some on Mars." She may have a point regarding government mismanagement of American tax dollars. However, I could hardly endorse the allocation of such an exorbitant amount of money based on the philosophy put forth here.
The final (and perhaps the most detracting) flaw with 'Packing for Mars' is Ms. Roach's insistence on forcing her idea of comedic one-liners into her work. Rather than "cackling like an insane person" (as A.J. Jacobs claims to have done in his praise for the book), I found myself continually rolling my eyes and audibly groaning at her cornball sense of humor. Here's a prime example taken verbatim from the book (p. 290) - ""Stool samples were...homogenized, freeze-dried, and analyzed in duplicate," wrote First Lieutenant Keith Smith in an evaluation of an aerospace diet that included beef stew and chocolate pudding. YOU HAD TO HOPE THAT LIEUTENANT SMITH KEPT HIS CONTAINERS STRAIGHT." (Emphasis added). These "cutesy" types of quips are found throughout the entire book, and eventually they become annoying. After awhile I started to imagine a 1950's sit-com laugh track being played whenever I came across one of these banal attempts at humor. It just felt too forced.

Fortunately, I picked this book up at my local library rather than buying it. Despite the aforementioned flaws, there truly are some great pieces of trivial information in this book; for that reason alone, if I ever see a copy of it at a thrift store or on a bargain bookshelf, I'll snatch it up. However, I can not recommend paying retail price for it.
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on May 5, 2013
Anyone who has a family member dreaming of being an astronaut should definitely get this. Mary Roach is hysterically funny and factual at the same time.
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