Space travel is something that has fascinated people the world over, even before it was an actual scientific possibility. Now that it is, and has been, Mary Roach takes her approach into the funny, hidden side of traveling to the moon and the impending tests for a trip to Mars. She doesn’t skimp on the details, from astronauts’ diapers to disgusting dried meals to whether or not any astronauts have joined the “three dolphin club”, the equivalent to the “mile high club” for airplanes. At the same time, she acknowledges both the wonder and the terror of space flight and delves deep into the history of the men, women, and animals who have dared to go where no others had gone before.
I’ve previously read one book by Mary Roach, Bonk, but I knew immediately upon reading it that I wanted to read more by her. Packing for Mars just seemed like an excellent choice; highly rated by many people I know and covering fascinating subject matter, I couldn’t resist. It’s science in a way anyone can consume it, even people who normally dislike science like me, mixed in with a healthy dose of humor and those anecdotes which other authors probably wouldn’t share, let alone investigate. Things like a freezer full of astronaut poos and the earlier-mentioned “three dolphin club” – I certainly didn’t expect to find those in this book, but I probably should have. There is plenty of history here as well as current experiments going on for future missions.
I also really appreciated the fact that Roach doesn’t limit herself to American astronauts. She also heads to Russia, and though fewer of her stories are about the cosmonauts, she certainly includes the country’s important role in space exploration and travel. Laika, the first dog in space, and her two followers who actually managed to survive the trip are mentioned right along with the monkeys that Americans used for their tests. I’ve spent a fair amount of time studying the Russian efforts into space, so I was happy to see a representation of both countries.
For me, this book was the perfect mix of facts and humor. I never felt bogged down by facts because the rest of the book was just so funny and informative. It’s great to learn and be entertained at the same time, and this is just what Roach delivers – providing a hilarious entry into the history and current situation of space travel. She doesn’t shy away from the dangers or the messy parts, and she experiences everything she can herself, from parabolic flights to going in a space travel toilet. Highly recommended.
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