Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void - Mary Roach This was my first Mary Roach book. Several of my friends enjoy her work and find her extremely funny, so I had high expectations going into this. It was an overall interesting and entertaining book, and I learned a lot about space and what all goes into the extremely expensive and tedious process of actually putting humans into space. At times though it got a little boring and I started to feel like I was reading a research paper rather than a novel. Roach got a little carried away with the footnotes (about half of them added fun extra tidbits to what she was discussing but I felt the other half were distracting and unnecessary). Also, sometimes what she was talking about would get lost in all the researchers' names and occupations and the lengthy titles of their research centers. I understand the need for sources in a non-fiction work, but it seems like they could've been cited in the acknowledgements or bibliography so that it didn't interrupt the flow of things.

Another thing that was kind of bothering me the whole time I was reading this - what are Roach's qualifications for being termed a "science writer?" She just has a bachelor's degree in psychology, so that's a bit confusing. I'm just wondering how she ended up writing about this kind of stuff when she seems to have no scientific background at all. I guess she's more like an investigative journalist or something. It seemed to me like she just researches a subject and interviews a bunch of people, pulls from some sources, and then throws in some pithy remarks to try to keep things light and humorous. I guess that's her shtick.

Anyway, I thought the chapters on the selection process for choosing astronauts were really interesting. The panel scrutinizes every little thing the candidates say and do (even the way they push their food around on their plates) while in these isolation rooms for extended periods of time. I didn't realize so many factors played a part in what makes the perfect astronaut. Roach saves the hot-topic chapters about sex, eating, and "going" in space until the end of the book. I thought those were the most fascinating since everything you do here on Earth with gravity must be relearned for the zero-gravity of space, so the astronauts are kind of like toddlers again being potty-trained and fed pureed mush.

I guess this makes me pretty immature, but my favorite part of the book is an excerpt from a transcript from the Apollo 10 mission involving a couple of astronauts and an unexpected guest. Who's the mystery guest, you ask? Okay, I'll tell you. It's a doody.