Packing for Mars by Mary Roach — One City One Book 2011

Friends of the San Francisco Public Library Readers Cafe & Bookstore at Fort Mason

The San Francisco Public Library’s One City One Book program is under way and this year’s book, Packing for Mars, by Bay Area author Mary Roach is like a backstage pass to the drama that is space travel! A fabulous pick, it should appeal to a broad readership regardless of age, gender, culture, or status. If you think space travel is cool, this book is for you!

I’ve always figured that life aboard a spaceship isn’t that different from life on earth. I was wrong. People pose extraordinary engineering challenges when it comes to space travel because of our basic human needs–like eating, bathing, defecating and more–as well as our varying physical dimensions and different genders. These challenges piqued Ms. Roach’s curiosity and she spent more than two years deeply researching the history and science behind hurling humans into space. What she found is serious and silly, sublime and ridiculous. The result is an entertaining and accessible work that you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to appreciate (pardon the cheap pun).

I laughed all the way through this book while faint memories of science lessons long forgotten resonated in my mind. Perhaps I would have paid more attention had my textbooks been written by Mary Roach. High-school teachers should definitely put this on a reading list!

I was absolutely blown away when I came upon one piece of information completely unfamiliar to me–about the event that really marked the beginning of the American space exploration era. The very first living creature to experience weightlessness was a rhesus monkey named Albert. In 1949, he was launched upwards. He was not on board American-made rocketry, but rather on the top of a Nazi V2 rocket, whose previous payloads had been warheads destined for London and other Allied cities during World War II. In defeat, Germany was forced to turn over the V2s to the United States. Several clever American engineers came up with the grand idea for what to do with these “spoils of war.” I just love the notion that technology invented for evil became utilized for the global good because our world has certainly been witness to the innumerable benefits of space exploration since that day when Albert took his ride.   

Packing for Mars is great fun. It entertains while it educates. And it’s a spectacular selection for San Francisco! Get your copy and check out a complete schedule of all the cool events planned around the book at


About onequietvoice

I work in the publishing industry where I focus on developing print and digital products for technology professionals. I am interested in literacy and technology and how the two can coexist to impact our culture in meaningful ways. I am passionate about preserving the public library system in our country.
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