Lollygagger’s Cannonball Read V Review #42: Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach

This is my second Mary Roach book of this Cannonball read, and the fact that it popped into my queue right now is perfect, because Gravity is out and I cannot wait to see it.

I was excited to read this because when I was a kid I wanted to be an astronaut. Not enough to get into the physics and astronomy track in college, or enlist in the air force, or really do anything to actively pursue that career path, but enough that to this day I still think that if I win the lottery I plan to squirrel away a chunk of the change to pay my way into space (after donating the vast majority of it to charity, of course.)

The premise is not just exploring space travel, but specifically extended space travel. Ms. Roach does a great job of weaving in the history of space travel through specific areas from eating space food to … eliminating said food. There are so many wonderful facts, great footnotes and just fun stories. She gets to ride the vomit comet (i.e. the parabolic flight), interview groundbreaking (atmosphere-busting?) astronauts, scientists and others.

The book is especially interesting because it doesn’t sugar-coat anything about space travel. I didn’t realize, for example, that some of the early space flights involved two dudes hanging out in a capsule for two weeks, no ability to wash or really take care of any personal hygiene needs. Or how much fecal matter can end up floating around in the space shuttle, and how much research and development had to go into creating a toilet, or how much effort goes into creating food that allows for a little more time between … evacuations.

Along the way of telling the story of all the challenges that are increased on a long space trip, Ms. Roach drops great little bits of knowledge. For example, she explains how the flag on the moon looked like it was blowing in the wind even though there isn’t wind on the moon, and talks about why people get motion sickness. There are so many awesome nuggets that it’s worth it for anyone who is into trivia.

You know the drill. It’s Mary Roach. It’s good. You’ll probably like it. Add it to the list.

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