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
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.
I've read/listened to almost all of Mary Roach's other books and enjoy her sense of humor. But this book has an absurd number of footnotes filled with irrelevant anecdotes, many of which aren't particularly entertaining. If you were reading the book you could skip them, but in the audiobook they constantly interrupt the flow of the narrative with "Note ---- Endnote."
I love non-fiction and this book could not be anymore interesting! We are amateur astronomers but this is not really astronomy related, rather it is about all the research conducted to get man into space. How do humans live, eat, drink, shower/clean, bathroom, live in close spaces with fellow astronauts, and tons more. This is my first book from this author and I am going to listen to all the others.
Very entertaining. Just as good a book as Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
Very similar to Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers only the subject is space.
She managed to capture the quirkiness of the subject matter.
It was very funny at times and educational at times. I learned that doing mundane tasks in space require lots of technology and great aim.
Awesome book for someone interested in space & NASA. Roach's writing style allows for a lot of info to be covered with ease, all while trying not to fall out of the chair from laughter. Burr scores again with her perfect narration.
Pro: A large set of anecdotes about the space program that are often poignant, hilarious, hair-raising, and enlightening.
Con: Chapters vary widely in their enjoyment factor. Some are fantastic. Some are better skipped.
I just found it interesting consistently. Makes the space program ever more impressive in all the odd things they had to try and figure out. Filled with wonderful strange information throughout.
The narration is called a "performance" but it's more like a robotic monotone. I found myself dozing off while driving. Otherwise, the story is fascinating.
There was some new history and a lot of what I would delicately describe as "things that do not add to the betterment of humnanity". This is primarily a book about Human Factors, Excrement Engineering, and Space Physiology. For some reason I was expecting a book about long-term human exposure to the space environment. Still, it was a decent read and NOT time wasted. But it does suffer from the bane of "why use 10,000 words to tell a story when you accomplish the same thing with 100,000". It did get tedious towards the end and I contemplated (but did not act on) a desire to just hit the STOP button and move along to my next book. So for me, it had JUST enough interest to make it to the end. But seriously, there was little new material after about the 2/3rds point. On the other hand, if you have spent your life wondering about how astronauts deficate/have sex/eat dinner, etc. then this will be at the top of your list.
Ms Burr's narration was excellent. I do have some problems with the book itself. First I will say that I mostly enjoyed it and would recommend it, with reservations.
There is more detail on separating feces from the body and the design of space toilets than was necessary to get the points across, but admittedly I will never again view a sci fi movie without thinking of these practical problems when the actors on screen look like they're living in an apartment (or movie set) on earth.
My difficulty with the book lies in what it does not cover. Now, of course, one takes for granted that there is a lot more to space travel than is discussed in the book. But I would have been quite interested in hearing at least some mention of what seem to be important topics.
For example, with all the problems caused by living in zero G (bone and muscle wasting, for starters), there might have been a page or two on artificial gravity generation, rather than the mere passing reference Ms Roach gives the topic. The bottom line, unexpected after watching charachters in sci fi movies from any decade (with the exception of the spectacularly accurate 2001) saunter around shipboard, is that it's impractical, and with current technology, zero G is how we will live in space, should that day come.
Or how about air purification systems or oxygen generation? There wasn't a mention of how this would be accomplished on a months' long journey to Mars, leaving one to wonder if it's just a matter of packing a lot of compressed air tanks, or dragging some national forest along in the aft deck.
What about medical and surgical illness on such a long voyage? If memory serves, Apollo 13 recounted the horrific circumstances of an inflight urinary tract infection. What is NASA's current planning for similar events?
How about clothes laundering? Ms Roach discusses how rank underwear gets after two weeks (as any mountaineer can attest), but makes no mention of what would happen on a much longer trip to Mars. I can guess that there would have to be a supply of clothes on board, and two week old underwear would be jettisoned. But I just wildly guessing here.
And how about hull repair following meteoroid impacts?
I would have much preferred that the book touch on these not inconsiderable topics (and a whole lot more) for a page or two each, rather than whole chapters on defecation and the like (I'm not at all squeamish; I just wanted to hear about other subjects). If I had been writing the book, the very first thing I would have done is to conduct some NASA interviews specifically to construct a list of topics to be covered, and then to allocate book space accordingly. As it is, the book is amusing, but it could have been much more enlightening -- and interesting.
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