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Editorial 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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  • Overall
  • Roy
  • Beaumont, TX, United States
  • 09-22-10

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.

24 of 24 people found this review helpful

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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.

16 of 16 people found this review 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.

28 of 30 people found this review helpful

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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.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • Allison
  • East Palo Alto, CA, United States
  • 08-07-10

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 of 15 people found this review helpful

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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.

16 of 18 people found this review helpful

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  • Mark
  • Raglan, New Zealand
  • 12-26-16

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.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Grant
  • NANTUCKET, MA, United States
  • 03-02-12

Interesting, funny, worthwhile

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

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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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 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Chris
  • Los Angeles, CA, United States
  • 09-22-14

Fascinating and Often Funny

Would you listen to Packing for Mars again? Why?

I've already replayed the section on zero-gravity toilet facilities for my son. It's very informative and also hilarious

What was one of the most memorable moments of Packing for Mars?

Well, I'd never thought about the fact that a person's internal organs are suspended in the body. Gravity significantly defines our figures. So in zero gravity, the organs tend to float upwards, leading to skinny waists and bloated upper bodies. There are lots of other things to think about, like zero-gravity bone loss or motion sickness and what to do if you vomit inside your space suit. You can't reach up and wipe your face, and with no gravity to keep the puke at the bottom of the helmet bowl, it can be a real hazard. Fascinating.

Have you listened to any of Sandra Burr’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

I don't remember. I can say, though, that after listening to this, I was about to get "Spook," Roach's book about scientific experiments on the afterlife. Another subscriber had commented that the reader there was too heavy-handed, loading up Roach's writing with her own overdone delivery. So I didn't order that.<br/><br/>I think the best approach with most good books is to get out of the way and let the story tell itself. This reader did seem to enjoy the material, but she had the good sense not to get in the way.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

I laughed a lot. I can't say that I was absolutely moved by Roach's concluding chapter, where she makes her case for spending more money on space exploration, but that's because it was so little poetry and so much just good solid reasoning. It left me thinking not, "This is inspirational," but "This is our job. This is what we need to put our money into, to make sure we do it right, because our future depends on it." <br/><br/>One of the nice things about this book is its commonsense foundation. It treats space exploration as something we are going to do, something practical, not some romantic once-in-a-lifetime movie but real, day-to-day work, carried out by human beings, something we can all have a part in. It made me think of the Vikings pushing off for Greenland, or of people like Magellan. By showing the practicalities of life in space, many of which are similar to the inconveniences and compromises and seamanship of shipboard life on the ocean, Roach helps to advance the public discussion of day-to-day space voyaging.

Any additional comments?

Very, very occasionally, Roach makes one joke or pun too many and I think to myself, "oh, come on. This is funny enough on its own." But that's a very small objection.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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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 of 9 people found this review helpful

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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 of 7 people found this review helpful

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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 of 1 people found this review helpful

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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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  • 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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  • 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.

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  • gordon
  • 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 of 2 people found this review helpful

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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.

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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 of 1 people found this review helpful

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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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  • 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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  • 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.