Let’s start with a disclaimer: I read this book many months ago, soon after it came out in hardcover. While my goal here is to mostly review recent reads, I’m making an exception in this case because of its trade paperback release last month and the final Shuttle missions.
If you’ve read Mary Roach before, you know what to expect: easily accessible science, research into unusual but fascinating areas, and a healthy dose of humor. Packing for Mars is true to form, and was one of my favorite books to hand-sell during the last holiday season.
Before reading this book, I thought I knew a lot about the space program. My father is an actual rocket scientist, and NASA has occasionally entrusted him with things like moon rocks. I’ve read The Right Stuff, more than once. We have Shuttle magnets on our refrigerator, and I even played with an astronaut Cabbage Patch doll when I was growing up. Somewhere I have a Lego set of a Shuttle on a launch pad.
Packing for Mars, however, explores space exploration from a very different, but very human, point of view. From the psychological effects of being confined in a small capsule or floating freely out in space to the problems that arise from collecting human excrement without gravity, this book is an in-depth look at the lesser-known engineering marvels that have allowed humans to travel, live, and work in the void of outer space. It is not just a matter of how to propel machines into space that interests Ms. Roach, but the idea of learning what humans need to survive in such and environment and adapting the vehicles accordingly.