After reading Roach’s first offering, Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers, I had been pondering which of her other books would next make my list. All of them sound amazingly good, but when my husband was browsing through them while picking an audiobook for us to share, this one stood out. Although I’m not as big as a space nut as he is, I had to admit that I couldn’t go wrong with this book. Anything that Roach turns her focus on becomes instantly intriguing, and the humor she presses into her unusual stories always hits just the right note. I wasn’t disappointed in this book at all, and though I liked Stiff just a little bit more, Packing for Mars was a fun romp through all the things I’ve ever (or never) wondered about space travel.
Mary begins her tale with the basics of traveling in space and goes on to chronicle the different space missions that have occurred throughout history. Her narrative delves not only in to the mysteries of space travel, but also the strange conundrums that shooting a human housed in a pressurized can into zero gravity can cause. She shares with us the reasons that animals were the first beings in space, and goes on to tell us what can happen when reentry goes horribly wrong. Through it all, her story is light and humorous, and Roach also shares her particularly amusing notes with her readers to bridge the gap between fact and comedy. Roach also includes actual transcripts of bizarre conversations that have taken place on spacecraft, such as when a floater escaped the fecal containment bag and went flying all over the capsule. I’ll leave it up to you to try to imagine what this conversation sounded like.
Aside from the humor, there was a lot of fascinating information presented about the logistics of traveling to Mars or living in space and how difficult both of those situations could turn out to be. When one thinks of astronauts, one thinks of heroes ascending into space to explore worlds and planets that the everyday Joe will never see, but in reality, space travel is much more a test of endurance and fortitude than anyone ever considers. Imagine being trapped with several strangers in a pressurized tube for months on end, not being able to sleep unless you tied yourself down, and being forced to remain in the same clothing (including underwear) for several weeks. Having to eat the most unappetizing things and not having any privacy to speak of. The realities of descending are also pretty frightening, and Roach shares the many ways things can go horribly wrong for those reentering the atmosphere. Funny and witty, yes, but eye-opening and penetrating as well.
What I liked most about this book was that Roach did an abundant amount of homework and took every story into several different tangents, leaving her readers fully satisfied that every avenue had been explored. It was amazing to think of all the things that must be studied and considered when sending even an unmanned rover into space, and Roach presents it all with style and aplomb, giving each component of space travel the attention it’s due. The narrator of this audiobook, Sandra Burr, was also wonderful because of her ability to relay all of this in a very informative way, without any histrionics. Her voice sounded wry and slightly amused as she read her way through the chapters. I appreciated her low-key delivery immensely, and hope that subsequent books I listen to feature her narration as well.
Whether you are a space junkie, like my husband, or a novice to all things orbital, like myself, there’s a lot to love about Packing for Mars. It’s crisp and hilarious at times, while also being chock full of the kind of information you won’t get anywhere else. It was a pleasure to end my day with a few chapters of Burr reading about the bizarre intricacies of putting men, animals and all sorts of other things in space. A great read that will shock and delight. Highly recommended!