Packing for Mars

I love Mary Roach’s books, Stiff, Spook, and Bonk. I’m a bit surprised she broke her one syllable book title pattern. But Pack doesn’t have the same allure.

I love her books because they mix science with stuff that is funny and stuff that is gross with stuff that makes you think about what it means to be human. Stiff is about how humans have researched death and dead bodies, Spook is about how we have tried to research the paranormal and Bonk is about researching sex. So, Packing for Mars is about the research that will get us to Mars.

It is also a lot about getting to the bathroom, don’t be fooled! This is the thing about Mary Roach: one chapter she can be talking about how much beans you have to eat to fill up a Coke can worth of flatulence (well, it is worth considering if you are going to be eating beans in a space shuttle) and the next she is trying to describe the feeling of holding a chunk of Mars in your hand.  Because that’s the thing about space – it is lofty and fancy and something that only a very clever species could achieve, but to get there we have to admit to the fact that we are a bunch of smelly animals.

Space travel is an exciting land for dreamers and brilliant scientists, but it’s all wrapped up in global politics and pop culture. It’s heroic and nerdy at the same time. On the one hand, we want to go to space for no real reason, except that it’s there. But on the other hand, isn’t this yearning to reach beyond our flimsy atmosphere breathtakingly human?  In some ways, this book is a love letter for space travel, which is pertinent since NASA’s just about to lose a lot of budget. It’s an extreme adventure tale of people pushed to the brink, and also a tale of how many mundane and boring experiments it takes to adventure so extremely.

When I first started this book, I wanted to go into space RIGHT NOW. Having read it through, I’m content to wait until they have all the bathroom stuff worked out.

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