Packing for Mars

The Curious Science of Life in the Void
Narrated by: Sandra Burr
Length: 10 hrs and 27 mins
4 out of 5 stars (4,043 ratings)

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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.

Featured Article: Space Oddities—The Surprising Lives of Astronauts


Of the more than seven billion people on this planet—plus those who have come before us—it’s a small group who can say they have left Earth and come back to tell the tale. The rest of us must content ourselves to hear stories from those who went out into the final frontier or learn from those who study it. Audiobooks are a revelation for space nerds at every level of engagement or interest. They make us feel connected to the great void and the stars beyond.

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Everything You Always Wanted to Know - and More

Mary Roach has applied her keen research skill and packaged her keen insights, once again, for us in "Packing for Mars." The result is one wild ride through space programs in the US and abroad. Crew compatability, the vagaries of bowel elimination, sex in space, food preparation, and taking (or not taking) a shower is all here. The result is a delightful, informative, thought provokiing insight into space travel, engineering, and human behavior.

This is a great listen to have on the MP3 on a long drive. It keeps your attention, informs, and makes the time fly by. The writing is good and topically organized. The reading of Sandra Burr is excellent.
NOTE: There is a section dealing with sexual matters which you may or may not want to play when younger companions are about. If you car pool with sensitive people, perhaps you should listen to that section in a different locaion.

30 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

What You Probably Don't Realize About NASA & Space

I wasn't sure to expect when I started reading this book, so I left my expectations at the cover. Just let Mary and Sandra lead the way. Having finished the book, I can say that had anyone else read it or if I had tried to read it myself, I might have not gotten as much out of it as I did. Sandra does a good job putting emphasis where I think Mary wanted it.

Prepare to embark on a journey of nausea, potty training, a bit of history, aero- and astrodynamics, and other stuff NASA doesn't like to talk about on a day-to-day basis. Expect to learn more about these things than you ever thought you could or would, and laugh while you do.

I'd recommend this book to anyone with an interest in space or aviation. Everyone else would enjoy the book as well, but not as much as someone who has in interest in the subjects discussed. Whether you are drawn to aviation and space, or have a fear of heights, you will still enjoy this book and probably come away with a better appreciation for everyone involved in any space agency.

19 people found this helpful

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Terrific!

Mary Roach is smart, funny and a terrific writer. This book was as good if not better than all her others. She has a talent for science writing - explaining complicated science using clear, memorable prose. She asked all the questions of the "Everyman" and a whole lot more! She not only interviewed NASA folks but also Japanese and Russian astronauts giving a still broader view of space flight
I can't wait to see what she writes about next
Sandra Burr delivers a spot on performance as well.

30 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Some Things We Learn from "Packing for Mars"

Mary Roach's "Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void" is the perfect book for anyone who is curious about the ins and outs (literally) of space travel.

We learn:

How astronauts urinate and defecate in space, and how this process has changed from the early Apollo missions to the space shuttle to the space station.

How sex in space would work, and if anyone has ever given it a shot.

How space food is produced and consumed, and why we would not want to have NASA take over our campus dining services.

What an astronaut really does in the 99% of the time she is not in space, and what NASA (and the Russian and Japanese space agencies) look for in a potential recruit.

How astronauts train, getting used to the rigors of zero gravity, the boredom, and the need to spend 24 hours a day with your co-workers without ever being able to leave.

Why Mary Roach thinks manned space exploration should continue, and why spending the $500 billion or so to get to Mars is a good investment.

I'm a big fan of Mary Roach's books. She has covered sex (Bonk), death (Stiff), and ghosts (Spook). The only problem with "Packing for Mars" is that the title is too long.

And in the category of, "oh what a small world we live in", it turns out that Mary Roach grew up in the small town in which I now reside. Mary, you are welcome to stay at the house if you ever want to come and visit.

9 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Fun, fact-filled, final frontier foray

This book is an easy listen. Mary Roach is very like Bill Bryson (not anatomically, but stylistically). She picks a subject to write about, researches it, and then writes the book in an interesting ,educational and funny way. Her subject matter tends to be more confined to science than Bill’s - and generally focusses on the human body. A quote from her nicely sums up her genre: “it's got to have a little science; it's got to have a little history, a little humour—and something gross."

'Packing for Mars' fits the template nicely. She looks at many aspects of space travel: what kind of person is suitable to become an astronaut; what effects does space have on a human, physically and mentally; what is it like to be in zero gravity, etc. In keeping with her propensity to always include ‘gross’ subject matter, she devotes a lot of pages to vomiting and pooing. Motion sickness is a massive problem in space, and most people will be affected to some extent. Vomiting inside a space helmet is really bad news. You can choke on it, it can get in your eyes or block your view by sticking to your visor, and you can’t wipe it away without removing your helmet. The early ‘right stuff’ astronauts were so macho that they tried to tough it out and pretend they weren’t affected, but in the modern era it is seen as a hazard that needs to be acknowledged and tackled.

Pooing in space is similarly complicated. When faeces leaves the rectum it doesn’t travel obediently downhill into a toilet, but just curls up and floats away, unless special steps are taken to contain it – this is all discussed in great detail.

Although you wonder at times if she dwells for disproportionately long spells on such ‘gross’ topics, the book is genuinely interesting and educational, and made me think and learn a lot about some subjects I’d never thought about before. The book has a tendency to meander around in a slightly random way, a bit like a turd in zero gravity, but it’s a good listen.

7 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Funny and informative

Very entertaining and fascinating! Mary Roach explains everything from bone loss to space bathrooms and everything inbetween. I wasn't even that interested in the subject to begin with but like her previous books I found myself completely enthralled.

14 people found this helpful

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All the weird detail questions you never realised needed asking

If you've ever wondered how NASA prepares equipment, supplies, and astronauts themselves for a journey to space, then this book is for you. If you've ever wondered how astronauts use a toilet in space and how early experiments in space toilets failed, in extreme detail, then this book is definitely for you. Once again Mary Roach takes a subject - how to prepare for a journey to space, and ultimately, a journey to Mars - and digs into every obscure and lesser-examined aspect of the question with her usual thoroughness, attention to detail, and quirky sense of humour.

4 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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Interesting, funny, worthwhile

Mary Roach seems to be able to make the most ordinary stuff sound interesting. Even aerosolized feces in zero-G.

4 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Interesting facts, boring narrator

I liked the book because of some interesting facts in it, but I think, I would've enjoyed it more if the narrator was reading it with some more excitement. For me, every joke fell flat because of her reading and had to listen on twice the normal speed, so it wouldn't seem so slow.

19 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

So. Much. FUN!

Packing for Mars is an exceptionally fun listen; it's fast-paced and well narrated, and all in all, a great book.

It's less about Mars than it is about space travel in general, and the intricacies of day-to-day life aboard a spacecraft, and sheds a lot of light on all the things one never really thinks about when they think of astronauts.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Pete
  • 09-18-10

Unexpected Gem

I bought this book on a whim but what a interesting book it goes right into the detail of man space flight and explains a lot of thing the TV never told us, I listen to my books while walking to work but with this one I made up walks just to listen to it!

I fully recommend it if you have half a interest in space flight

9 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Nicola Fern
  • 02-01-11

Great book, horrible narration

Pushes all my favourite buttons...geeky, funny and thoroughly entertaining.

I got the audiobook from Audible before I bought the hardback, and hated it - the reader they used has such a mechanical, robotic sounding voice and flat delivery that not an iota of humour survived, and it was so monotonous that I couldn't concentrate on it. However, I could tell there was a great book struggling to make itself heard so I bought the hard copy and I'm very glad I did.

6 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Amazon Customer
  • 02-18-11

My best audiobook purchase yet

Bought this book on a whim, based on another good review, and I wasn't dissapointed. This was a fantastically engrossing book, highly accessible and endlessy engaging.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Amazon Customer
  • 09-02-17

Great fun

This book gives the human side of space exploration, and answers many of the questions we would like to know, but were afraid (or too embarrassed) to ask. It demystifies the space programme by exposing the many fallibilities of those involved. It is good fun, hugely enjoyable, and really well written and read.

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  • StapleRemover
  • 10-17-16

Stilted at first, gets better

The story is amazing but initially the narrator sounds very robot like. Footnotes don't help and break up the narrative. Eventually you warm to the voice. I even laughed out loud on occasions.

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Swati
  • 03-08-16

Good story but a cynical narration

I struggled to finish it. mainly the cynical tone of the narrator was not palatable.

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • kelan
  • 07-21-15

If you're interested in space and like QI this may be your thing

I wouldn't normally go for a non fiction audiobook but this book is well worth the break in the norm. It's full of facts and narrated excellently. If you're even glancingly interested in what's involved in space travel & if you like a multitude of interesting tidbits then this is the book for you.

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
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  • boxfan
  • 11-19-11

My worst download yet!

I was looking forward to hearing this but sadly I found it annoying. It was not only the reader's delivery, as another reviewer mentioned, it was the writing. This woman seems obsessed with lavatorial issues and sex. This would be ok it it wasn't treated in such a 'nudge-nudge' schoolgirlish way.. Couldn't wait for it to be finished to be honest!

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Janice
  • 08-04-11

Packing for Mars

I waited for this book to come out for absolutely ages but was somewhat disappointed in the result - too much anticipation, I suppose. There was considerable research, all no doubt solid and reliable, but the author did rather harp on certain subjects to the point of irritation - enough already, move on, I've got the point! There were times, too, when I had to fast forward, such was the graphic nature of the content, but it was all in the interests of science so relevant to the subject matter. It is a little out of date, given the latest developments in space science, but might become a school text book at some stage in the future, now that the space shuttle has been moth-balled. All round, it was interesting, though the narrator's rather high pitched nasal voice began to grate after a while.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Ann
  • 06-14-11

Yet another great book

I can't add much to the other reviews except to say the book manages to walk a fine line between technical explanations and funny stories, and does it brilliantly. It's the epitome of popular science, and very easy to listen to. I was quite surprised by the appearance of Sylvia Saint (well, the mention of her - she didn't agree to an interview) but am impressed by the author's dedication to finding out everything about the indignities of space flight. The one thing that did drive me a little bit mad was the constant 'note' interruption - I imagine this would have been just as irritating in the print version, but foot notes REALLY don't work well in audio form, not in the middle of chapters. Based on this title, I also read two more of her books and they maintain the same high standard.

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  • DoctorFirefly89
  • 07-31-15

Utterly delightful

I bought this on a whim and I'm very grateful I did. Mary Roach is everything you want from a science writer: knowledgeable, eloquent, well-researched and absolutely hilarious. Roach clearly has a wonder for space and space travel and it shows in her words, but she also has a fascination for the whole story and that's what elevates this above the regular story of the Space Age. She has done a great deal of research, combing through archives, interviewing not only American astronauts, but Russian cosmonauts. She speaks to programmers, engineers, analysts and importantly: researchers. She talks to the people that make space travel possible. Two of the most entertaining sections of this book demonstrate all this. The first is her discussion of how to go to the toilet in space. I had heard about the high-tech space toilet but I never thought about it much. This is only a research invention for the Space Station. Apollo astronauts went number 2 in a bag over their hands that then had to be treated with chemicals so the gases produced by the accompanying microbes didn't make it explode. The second is sex in space. The highlight is when Mary hears about a Czech (I think, it was definitely European) porno that was set in space and supposedly shot in a plane during parabolic flight. She actually tracks down someone to worked on the film and even a copy of the 70s film to see if it's true (I wont spoil it for you).

This book was highly entertaining and informative and gives you many great stories to tell.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • The Talent
  • 08-31-16

Very thorough, and a good read.


Mary roach has seriously done her homework on this one. Boy there is so much that goes into sending man to space. The depth of Roach's explanations is wonderful. You don't often get to read about many of these things.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Charles
  • 08-04-16

Great book, narration near perfect.

Loved the book and its themes however it can be disjointed at times. The narration is near perfected besides a few mispronunciations for example the narrator pronounces EVA (Extra Vehicular Activity) as its spelt when its meant to be pronounced as an acronym. Otherwise its hard to find flaws in the book.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Miss Amy V
  • 11-26-15

Top listen (as usual) from Mary Roach

This is the second audiobook I have listened to by Mary Roach and it was as fantastic as Stiff!! She really does discuss all the gross stuff that NASA doesn't want you to know. Sandra Burr narrates it exactly how I imagine Roach would want it to sound (Russian accents and all).
Excellent to the end. Definitely worth the money.