Every now and then, I get a chance to wander the library stacks unhindered by a wriggling, shrieking, yanking child. These occasions are so rare that I don’t really know what to do with myself. I end up just grabbing the first five books that look even a little appealing, just like I do when my child is there. So there was no consulting of my “Whitney’s Shelf” list when I grabbed Packing for Mars, which I have wanted to read ever since it came out in 2010. I read it all on my lonesome, constantly texting Whitney little excerpts and funny tidbits. Neither of us realized that this book was on our mutual to (re)read list. Whitney is starry-eyed with love, so she can be forgiven (and exempted from rereading– though my constant texting probably should count for something), but I was just being lazy. At any rate, the book was read, and it was delightful.
Roach’s approach to the practicalities of long-term space exploration are as humorous as they are informative. Her original mind asks intriguing questions– not just “How do astronauts poop?” but “What happens if you throw up in your space suit?” She’s like a 4 year old at Harvard. It’s delightful. She says at one point, “Space doesn’t just encompass the sublime and the ridiculous. It erases the line between,” and the same can be said for this book. Thoroughly researched, entertainingly related, Packing for Mars makes the real hurdles surrounding human space exploration understood while also communicating the sense that these are surmountable challenges, and not matters for real discouragement.
Yes, the money [spent on space research, exploration, and travel] could be better spent on Earth. But would it? Since when has money saved by government red-lining been spent on education and cancer research? It is always squandered. Let’s squander some on Mars. Let’s go play. – Mary Roach, Packing for Mars
This book was so delightful. If you’ve ever contemplated space travel or federal research funding or NASA or how the body works without gravity, do yourself a favor and check it out.
Also, consider voting in this finely crafted poll to help me decide what to read next. Other recommendations are welcome in the comments as well.