Packing for Mars by Mary Roach

Packing for Mars Mary Roach

My second Mary Roach book! Not quite sure how I feel about it.

I’ve been looking forward to more Mary Roach since I read Stiff, and I decided to go with Packing for Mars since I have such a fondness for space exploration (especially humans going to Mars).

There were parts of this book that I really liked. For instance, learning that one of the tests that the Japanese have their potential astronauts go through is folding 1000 cranes. Not something that sounds important, but it tests a person’s attention to detail as time goes on – in space, you can’t afford sloppy work just because the work is tedious or been done before. I liked learning about the struggles NASA has had in trying to make eating and going to the bathroom possible for astronauts in zero gravity. I liked learning about bone density, and how astronauts have to try to keep their bones strong during prolonged zero gravity trips. And she referenced a few other books that sounded really cool – I now have Riding Rockets by astronaut Mike Mullane waiting for me at the library thanks to this book.

But there were some parts that actually kind of irked me. At one point Mary goes on to ask a bunch of professionals “why” gravity exists. When physicists said “What does ‘why’ mean?”, she goes on to say that maybe gravity is a mystery to even those who understand it. Just….. no. The question she was asking made no sense. Asking why gravity exists is like asking what the meaning of life is. Gravity is one of the four forces of the universe. Maybe she was purposely trying to get a kick out of them, I don’t know. Maybe I’m just being uptight.

Overall, the book fell flat for me. I wasn’t really eager to keep reading. The things she discusses are interesting, and I’m glad that I learned a few things. It was worth the read. But something didn’t QUITE work for me. Maybe I let my biases about space get in the way from completely enjoying it. OH also, I listened to the first 3 chapters on audiobook, and I wouldn’t recommend it. The narrator had a terrible voice, and it was hard to let names and facts sink in – in some cases, print is just better for me.

I’m still looking forward to reading more of her though. I think next I want to try Bonk… sex is pretty ridiculous, and I think it’s a topic that would suite her fondness for the weird, gross, and hysterical pretty well.

Sarah Says: 3 stars

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23 comments

  1. Don’t you get a wish if you fold 1000 paper cranes? Very good idea for the Japanese space program if so — the astronauts can just each wish that they and their spaceships come back safe and sound every time.

    I do not think you’re being uptight about the gravity thing. I’m giggling at that story, but if I were a scientist being asked that question it would be annoying.

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  2. I like Mary Roach quite a bit, but I didn’t LOVE the books of hers that I read (Gulp and Stiff) for reading straight through, and this sounds like it would be the same for me. She’s god for reading one chapter at a time, then putting down for other things, and I love the little details I learn from her. The bit about the Japanese astronauts folding 1,000 cranes? That’s great, and that’s precisely the sort of trivia I enjoy knowing, and for all of the reasons, that aren’t trivial at all, why they do it.

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  3. Interesting that I have no memory of the gravity question – must have filtered it out. I’m curious to try Stiff now that you say it was so much better. I did like Packing for Mars a great deal, I thought it’s a really good book for people who know very little or nothing about the space stuff, and for me it was so interesting I couldn’t really put it down. But it may also be due to my lack of experience in non-fiction and not being able to compare with some really good books out there.

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    1. I think I liked Stiff better because there was just so much about cadavers and donating bodies to science that I’ve never really thought about it before, everything was like “Oh wow, I had no idea.” In all fairness, I thought that about this book at the part about going to the bathroom in space. And part of me is sad that scientists just haven’t figured out the best solution to that yet… If we were in a rush to get to Mars by a certain deadline, I bet the scientists under pressure would figure that out FAST.

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  4. I need to read something by Mary Roach, but maybe not this one. If you want something about space Chris Hadfield has one out that is supposed to be quite good.

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  5. Mary Roach is an interesting character. I saw her speak at an event in Chicago and she kept stressing that she had absolutely no science background whatsoever. While that does make her a good parallel to most of the readers and results in things like the paper cranes being mentioned, sometimes I’d like for her to be a little more knowledgeable. The why question is just embarrassing.

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    1. Yeah… and her having so science background is really cool, it’s great that she’s made a career out of this stuff. But at the same time, I have to wonder sometimes how many errors there are in her books, or how often she misunderstood something. I think I prefer books by people with science backgrounds, who are just also really great at writing simply and fun.

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