October 3, 2011

San Francisco has this One City One Book project, where the library encourages the city to all read the same book. They have various programs, author readings, book discussions to supplement the reading as well. This year, San Francisco chose Packing for Mars, by Mary Roach.

I love her! I read her other three books – Stiff, Spook and Bonk. Her books are hilarious and interesting. I’d highly recommend Stiff, which is a book about “the curious lives of human cadavers”. Essentially Roach investigates what happens to cadavers – from practicing surgery to crash testing to being studied for forensic science. Spook (about the afterlife) and Bonk (about sex) were not as good. In my opinion, it was their subject matter. There’s not a whole lot of hard science on the afterlife and sex research is actually pretty boring and/or disguised as something else. But since I like her writing, why not try out her newest book – even though I’m not all that interested in space.

Well, this book definitely redeems the two I didn’t like. It’s doesn’t cover your typical space travel topics. Instead, it covers the more human aspect of living in space – what NASA had to be concerned with if they actually wanted to send a human up. Roach covers what personality traits and tests would-be astronauts go through. She looks at motion sickness and vomiting, isolation and confinement, crash testing and animals in space. But what I really liked was all the very human parts of space travel, especially when it was new. Who knew if any of our internal organs depended on gravity? Would something stop working once a human got into space? What about bathing and going to the bathroom (there’s a whole chapter) and sex and food? She covers it all with her standard jokes and interesting facts and totally expected view of a normal person doing this research (example, she goes on a parabolic flight that allows for testing in zero gravity during which she reveals the only notes she took were “Yippee” and Woo!”)

Totally read it.



  1. This probably says more about me than almost every other comment I’ve left on your blog, but when I read this and noticed you didn’t use the Oxford Comma my mind just exploded with nerd rage, haha. I’m a huge proponent of the Oxford Comma, despite what modern writing conventions espouse.

  2. I once heard a story on national public radio, reporting on how space toilets have to be tested before going into orbit. NASA actually had testers going on this zero gravity flight and during the 15-second weightlessness, they were told to “go! go! go!”. Now that’s a lot of pressure.

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