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Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void | [Mary Roach]

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void

Space is a world devoid of the things we need to live and thrive: air, gravity, hot showers, fresh produce, privacy, beer. Space exploration is in some ways an exploration of what it means to be human. How much can a person give up? How much weirdness can they take? What happens to you when you can’t walk for a year? Have sex? Smell flowers? What happens if you vomit in your helmet during a space walk? Is it possible for the human body to survive a bailout at 17,000 miles per hour?
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Audible Editor Reviews

Anyone searching for a laugh-out-loud selection should look no farther than Sandra Burr’s performance of Mary Roach’s Packing for Mars. Those who have enjoyed Roach’s previous books (Stiff, Spook, and Bonk) will not be disappointed by this latest offering. Packing for Mars presents listeners with the quirky realities of space travel usually left out of NASA press releases or articles celebrating the latest accomplishments of space missions.

Sandra Burr captures the humorous, sometimes snarky, but always fascinating bits of information that up to now most of us have managed to live without. For example, while we all know that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin planted an American flag on the moon, Packing for Mars tells us how folks at NASA figured out how to pack the darn thing. We also know that astronauts have ways to answer nature’s call while in space, but from Roach’s book we learn of the experiments that went into perfecting the winning contraption to allow such activity.

Burr’s recitation of Roach’s footnotes is especially entertaining. In these asides are gems of arcane knowledge, including talking toilet paper dispensers at NASA, why there were no “chimp-o-nauts”, and the cocktail party conversation-starter that rabbits and guinea pigs are the only mammals not to suffer from motion sickness.

Throughout Packing for Mars Sandra Burr give lively readings of conversations between astronauts, either from their interviews with the author or read as bits of dialogue from space mission transcripts. Burr’s tone when expressing astronaut Jim Lovell’s irritation at the mission nutritionist’s poor packaging of messy space food should amuse listeners. Equally fun is the depiction of the back-and-forth between Command Pilot James McDivitt and Astronaut Ed White as McDivitt tries to coax an unwilling White, outside of the space module for the first US “space walk”, to come back inside before his oxygen runs out.

Burr’s talent is in full force when she is interpreting the author’s descriptions of pre-spaceflight training. “Weightless Flight Regurgitation Phenomenon” is discussed in detail as is the too-much-information quality of the Soviet’s “Restricted Hygiene Experiments”. From “space euphoria” to “the space stupids”, Burr’s presentation of Mary Roach’s Packing for Mars will cause chuckles that will necessitate explaining to those in close proximity that you are listening to a really funny book. —Carole Chouinard

Publisher's Summary

Space is a world devoid of the things we need to live and thrive: air, gravity, hot showers, fresh produce, privacy, beer. Space exploration is in some ways an exploration of what it means to be human. How much can a person give up? How much weirdness can they take? What happens to you when you can’t walk for a year? Have sex? Smell flowers? What happens if you vomit in your helmet during a space walk? Is it possible for the human body to survive a bailout at 17,000 miles per hour?

To answer these questions, space agencies set up all manner of quizzical and startlingly bizarre space simulations. As Mary Roach discovers, it’s possible to preview space without ever leaving Earth. From the space shuttle training toilet to a crash test of NASA’s new space capsule (cadaver filling in for astronaut), Roach takes us on a surreally entertaining trip into the science of life in space and space on Earth.

©2010 Mary Roach (P)2010 Brilliance Audio, Inc.

What Members Say

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  •  
    Pamela 05-16-11
    Pamela 05-16-11 Member Since 2009
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    "An absorbing glimpse into space travel"

    No telling what started Mary Roach on her path of learning all the details about life in zero gravity, and the problems NASA and the astronauts have had to deal with and mostly of course--how they dealt with them. It was a totally fascinating book about a little known topic. I don't think she forgot any of the myriad little issues which cropped up in the evolving days of space travel, many are quite humorous--especially in hindsight.
    I was amazed at the things I didn't have a clue about, or had even considered before.
    Sandra Burr is a very competent narrator; could have been better, but no complaints.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Joel D Offenberg 05-16-11 Member Since 2015
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    "I loved it (but I'm a space geek)"

    "How do the toilets work in space?"

    Every 8-year-old (and a few 80-year-olds) are curious about what it's like to live without gravity, away from the Earth and travelling to Mars. Aside from potty questions, questions about what you'd eat, how you'd get along with your crewmates, what would happen to your bones (among other puzzles others) on a long space flight to Mars are covered by Mary Roach's fun book. The book isn't really about Mars, but about getting people there.

    I thought this was great, but then I'm a bit of a space geek....if you aren't interested living in zero-gravity, you may find this book a bit silly. Roach's book isn't a serious treatment of the issues, more of a surface discussion of the problems....with occasional diversions into semi-wicked humor.

    I also loved Sandra Burr's reading. She gave the book a lot of flavor and caught the humor very well. She also pronounced just about all of the technical and engineering terms correctly....a pleasant change from many other narrators.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Amazon Customer AUSTIN, TX, United States 05-07-11
    Amazon Customer AUSTIN, TX, United States 05-07-11 Member Since 2014
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    "Inside an astronaut's world"

    Mary Roach is not squeamish about inquiring into every dark nook of an astronaut's demanding job. But, in doing so, she reveals the extraordinary mental strength and courage possessed by these individuals.

    Throughout history, the people who pursue science out of pure passion have taken astounding risks, made extraordinary leaps of faith, their desire to *know* easily outpacing fear. That is what makes books like these a joy to read...being reminded that people like that exist, and they are the reason civilizations progress.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    sara Madison, United States Minor Outlying Islands 04-30-11
    sara Madison, United States Minor Outlying Islands 04-30-11 Member Since 2010
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    "Not as good as I had hoped."

    The technical stuff wasn't technical enough, the funny stuff wasn't funny enough, and the deadpan, slow pace of the reader kind of sucks the life out of the writing. It is ok. I had just listened to Sarah Vowel reading Unfamiliar Fishes, and this was just kind of a let down after how much I enjoyed that work.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Janet 04-30-11
    Janet 04-30-11
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    "What a hoot"

    All the questions you ever had about the complexities and discomforts -- along with the thrills of space exploration but no-body ever was willing to answer.

    This is an author who can cover the most intimate and taboo subjects with delicacy and almost lady-like tact, flavored with brutal honesty. How she does it? I think that the narrator has something to do with the audio-book's success.

    However you analyze this -- it's an interesting, fun and informative read!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Benny S Madison, WI United States 04-29-11
    Benny S Madison, WI United States 04-29-11 Member Since 2014
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    "Fun stuff!"

    Like all of Mary Roach's work, this is a really fun book to listen to! It's actually a little more well-organized than her previous work, but just as much fun. Her humor and accessibility are still at 100%!

    My only complaint is similar to all of her work - there could be more science here. The lay public CAN handle science, and holding back on it does a disservice to those of us who crave more.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Aaron Encinitas, CA, United States 03-08-11
    Aaron Encinitas, CA, United States 03-08-11
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    "Everything you wanted to know about feces in orbit"

    First I should mention that this book has almost nothing to do with a journey to Mars, and not very much to do with what to bring when going into space.

    What we have here is an extremely detailed recounting of the biological, psychological, and hygiene problems that astronauts have in space -- with a strong focus on the US space flights of the 1960s. If you want to know whether it's hard to urinate in zero gravity, or whether the inside of a space capsule smells bad, or whether astronauts are annoyed by their schedules, this is your book. It was all kind of interesting, but not what I was looking for. I now have visions of floating turds inside a space capsule that are pretty hard to unsee.

    Also, the author thinks she is funny, and thinks we want to hear all about how she looked into these topics, what the people she interviewed are like at lunchtime, and whether she enjoyed learning about each subject. Frankly I got pretty tired of learning about her and her unimportant reactions, as opposed to the actual (icky) subjects.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Karl Hopkinton, NH, United States 03-03-11
    Karl Hopkinton, NH, United States 03-03-11
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    "Childishly silly and trivial"

    Not having read anything else by this author, I was expecting something more erudite and scholarly. What I got instead is puerile and superficial. I stopped listening after the third chapter but, figuring that I'd already paid for it, finally resumed listening at 2x speed, just so I could get through it as quickly as possible. The humor is often gratuitous and juvenile. The writing is only slightly better than Susan Casey's The Wave--another waste of a valuable Audible credit. If you are looking for a serious book about the psychological and physical challenges of human space travel, I would recommend Buzz Aldrin's memoir, Magnificent Desolation.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Diane United States 02-22-11
    Diane United States 02-22-11 Member Since 2015
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    "Wonderfully amusing!"

    I've never been that interested in space travel, but I loved this book and was sad when it ended. I will definitely get more of Mary Roach's books.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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    Jennifer California 02-18-11
    Jennifer California 02-18-11
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    "Not Really About Mars"

    The title implies a look at what needs to be done to send a manned mission to Mars, a subject barely skirted in this often-entertaining historical summary of the challenges of weightless travel in confined space. Mary Roach explores the difficulties of eating, defecating, and mating in a zero-gravity environment with the excessive enthusiasm of your typical middle schooler. I would have preferred a little less discussion of how pornography has depicted zero-gravity sex and a little more discussion of how artificial gravity might be generated or why it would be impractical to do so. A discussion of speed limitations and alternative launch strategies might also have enhanced the book.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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