Unit 10: Packing for Mars Reading Response

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29 thoughts on “Unit 10: Packing for Mars Reading Response

  1. Matthew Wetherington

    Well, getting into this book, I wasn’t really sure what to expect by the title, but now I see. Mary intends to take us over everything one needs, from a psychological stand point, you would need to be “packed” or prepared to go on a space adventure. For my question, is there a special psychology that astronauts need? This being said, the first thing that really struck me was how each and every country placed a different value on what they want out of their astronauts, some preferred mental fortitude, others critical thinking, and still others that wanted a more well rounded individual. Next, I was highly fascinated about the lengths at which JAXA or Japan’s space program cared about the psychology of space explorers, and what it would take to make a good astronaut from examining such events as origami, plates from meals, to drawings, and speeches. They could use these test to indicate whether a person was qualified for going to space or not; it also seemed like having an military aviation background, or coming from that lifestyle was a huge positive, as that career field help prepare them for what they would face as space explorers.

    1. Angelica Kougl

      I like how you pointed out how different countries had different ideas about what it takes to be a successful astronaut. It’s interesting to see how qualities that deem very important in one culture are pretty insignificant as far as qualifying as a fit astronaut goes.

  2. Angelica Kougl

    Starting this reading, I didn’t know what a book titled “Packing for Mars” would entail. I will say I was pleasantly surprised. I expected either a Sci-Fi story or a scientific read that would be full of chemistry and physics jargon for me to comprehend. I do not consider myself a reader, and I find it especially difficult to sit through a reading of either of those styles. I was pleased to find out it was neither, and I didn’t struggle with reading the chapters as much as I anticipated. From the first 4 chapters, I found the personality tests astronauts had to go through to be considered for space travel most intriguing. It’s seems a little humorous, but equally clever, that astronauts would be asked to fold a thousand paper cranes as part of their test to see if they are capable of isolation and space travel. There are so many factors that play into an astronaut having a successful trip, from survival conditions, emotional outlets, and personality conflicts, and the many different tests they create to attempt and predict their reactions in these different situations interests me. They even looked at the astronauts used dishes after their dinner for further evaluation of their personalities. It interests me because creating a test, or even a series of tests, that accurately portrays how situations will unfold in space is such a difficult task. Different personalities will react differently to those tests depending on their culture, the way they grew up and were raised, and their personal values and beliefs. These differences do not always mean a better or a worse candidate for space travel, but yet one personality is likely to get favored over another simply due to flaws in the testing (even though both candidates may actually be equally capable). I am sure a lot of these tests are successful at filtering out unfit qualities, but just the process alone of creating these tests (that may or may not be effective) and using them as a measure of whether or not someone travels to space is mind-boggling.

    1. virginia blake

      Nice Reply!! I am not much of a reader myself either and was worried that I wouldn’t be able to follow along. However, I loved reading the book and the way Mary writes it – makes it easy to follow along. I like exploring into all the different test and things they analyzed about the astronauts as well!

  3. Tarean Allen

    I wasn’t sure what to except with this book, but dove right in. I read further than chapter four so please forgive me if my reading response is beyond. I loved the detail of the psychological evaluations. I like that the different countries take on what is essential to a good astronaut. I thought it very logical for a psychological test to have the Japanese candidates craft 1000 origami swan/cranes. I feel if I were to undergo this test that if I failed I would have still been satisfied that I tried. I thought it kind of funny that the candidates were so competitive that they didn’t want to be the first one to eat their food. I did find it odd that certain quirks were immediate fails. For example, you would be denied if you bobbed your leg during the interview process. Considering the lack of such strenuous psychological evaluation in the astronaut pioneers, I wonder if would have affected the outcome. I know tensions were different in the 1960s and the race to the moon.

    1. Cassandra Lane

      I, too, thought that it was interesting that certain “quirks,” as you put it, were grounds for immediate failure. As I was reading the book, I found myself sitting there swinging my leg and immediately stopped, then laughed at myself for doing so. Among the others, the snoring one kind of sucks because that isn’t something that you can really control. I get the bad breath one because that would be miserable to be in such close quarters with someone whose breath was atrocious. While I’m sure that it was and still is difficult to go through the psychological tests, I wouldn’t want to be depending on someone up there and have that someone have a mental breakdown that caused death or injury to someone. Up there, there are a few people with you but you are still completely alone and it gets lonely with not a lot to do. I assume it could break a lot of people.

      1. Kristopher Dunkle

        I have to agree about the strangeness of all the “instant fail” conditions. It almost seems like they were grasping for ways to narrow down the pool of candidates or something like that, because as you both pointed out, some of the rules appear pretty darn frivolous.

  4. Emily Nerbonne

    This was actually my second time reading this book. At the very beginning of the school year I read the book thinking we would do it first, but it turned out that we did the second book. Though, with reading this book a second time, you get a better understanding of the book, and you pick up on many details that you miss the first time around.
    Just from the first few chapters, I knew that I would like Mary Roach’s writing technique; and I truly do. Like she explains in the introduction for the first book we did, the author has to blend the science with the stories. A good scientific writer has to make a story to go along with all the facts that are pulled into essays. With these first few chapters, you see that Mary’s writing is a mixture of the scientific jargon and the stories of the astronauts. You can also see a vein of Mary’s humor through the book. One point that made laugh a lot was on page 85, where she is talking about gravity and says, “Until this week, I failed to appreciate the gravitas of gravity.” This phrase make me laugh out loud. The fact that she was able to do that while talking about failed missions to send Albert into space just made my reading experience all the better.
    In the book, Packing for Mars, Mary lays out for you the different scientific advances and research that has been done in making astronauts and technology ready for life in space, or life on Mars. To be able to handle all the pressures of space, and all that comes with it, you need to be able to withstand a lot and Mary shows you through her book what different people have gone through to bring us where we are in the space programs. Many experiements have taken place and many volunteers have offered to lead the way in finding out what space exploration and life will take us.
    One thing that really stuck out to me while I was reading the book was the dynamic between mixed-gender teams and those that we teams of the same gender. In chapter 2, on page 60, Mary Roach explains a NASA teamwork study ran by Norbert Kraft. Norbert compared all-male, all-female, and mixed gender teams. The mixed gender teams showed the best performance of the three. With women on the crews, there has been “a rise in productivity and emotional stability.” It was interesting what happened when women were introduced into the crews. For years, there had only been all-male crews that ran the missions. There are risks of sending up both men and women into space for long periods of time, but as the study showed, it is beneficial to have women on the crews. All- gender teams weren’t the best, and mixed-gender teams were the best. As the study shows, people shouldn’t be barred from a mission because of their gender or anything. It is best if anyone who qualifies to go.

  5. Cassandra Lane

    I found this book to be particularly interesting. You only ever hear of the good parts, never any of the bad and the ugly about space travel and the prep work involved in it. The first chapter, about how Japan picks an astronaut, was attention-grabbing for me. For starters, there are a lot of things that can eliminate you from the pool. For starters, they are put in a seven-day isolation to weed out applicants with any less desirable qualities. They are required to make 1,000 paper cranes because “they will be granted health and longevity (Roach, 2010, p. 25).” The quality of their cranes is also evaluated to see if they break under pressure. How they eat their food is also evaluated which I thought was interesting. I never would have thought that how someone eats, how much they eat or how they leave their plate would have anything to do with how someone would do in space. A few things that can exclude you from being picked to be an astronaut. For the Japanese, snoring could eliminate according to Tachibana on page 33, because it could wake people up. And in Chinese selection, bad breath can eliminate you.
    I enjoyed reading about what these astronauts go through during selection process and training. I imagine after reading about the woman that it would be a hard career for a woman to get into and not be taken advantage of. It isn’t fair to be treated like we are nothing and have no opinion. We are people too and we have opinions.

    1. Angelina Lund

      I agree with you that being a female astronaut would be a hard career. They dont get taken serious and they get taken advantage of. I also found it interest about the requirement of making orgami cranes. That would be very difficult to make all those and have them be perfect to the standards being judged. Training for to be an astronaut just sounds very strenuous and exhausting to me. I almost felt sorry for the applicants.

  6. Angelina Lund

    When I first started this read I had never put much thought into the training and preparation needed to become an astronaut. My question is- Can you ever be fully prepared or “packed” for a mission to outer space? The people who go through all this training , were they prepared? Did they know about all the cultural differences, the food, the lack of sleep and the lack of personal space? If they knew all this prior to signing up, would they have still been interested? After reading this book , I am sure the astronaut life was not and still is not for me. There are obvious rewards for those who can pass all the training and still have their sanity. I personally can not imagine being stuck in space for a month with a person who does not speak the same language much less the length of a space mission. Obviously my favorite chapter was chapter 2 where Roach talks about being locked up and all the differences, the mold and the lice. I just could not do it. Life in space is difficult and the number of people who quit during the training proves it.

    1. Jessica Mathews

      Good question, I don’t think it would be easy but oh my god it would be a life changer. The preparation, the tests, the food, and everything that is involved would change our perspectives on life alone not even including enduring days upon days in space! Keep up the good work!

  7. Kristopher Dunkle

    For some reason, what stuck out to me the most out of the first few chapters was not any of the larger topics, but something fairly small: how arbitrary and irrelevant some of the training tasks and requirements appear to me. For example, while a rule against bad breath seems a little petty, at least the reasoning is fairly sound and direct; bad breath is undeniably unpleasant and causes social friction, which is something that’s especially important to minimize in such a confined setting. On the other hand, I am highly skeptical of some of the other tests, such as the folding of a thousand paper cranes or how much food they leave on their plate. What scientific evidence, exactly, is there to support the usefulness of the results of such tests? Is there truly no more effective or reliable way to test for the qualities they’re after? Are those qualities actually relevant to the mission? Maybe there is solid evidence for them (I haven’t looked), but otherwise they seem almost as bogus as evaluating someone based on their astrology sign.

    1. Roger Vang

      There were many tests that I also thought were redundant or useless. To me, it seemed like the space programs already knew the type of person to the specifics. So maybe they wanted someone who would not waste food since resources in space are scarce, for example. I wonder what odd tests they’re giving to the future Mars exploration team?

  8. Roger Vang

    From the first four chapters, Mary Roach goes over the psychologically stressful training a person must go through to become an astronaut. At the start of this week’s reading, I questioned, “How psychologically sane must an astronaut be?” The first American astronauts were selected “by balls and charisma,” according to the reading. Nowadays, however, becoming an astronaut requires much, much more for a successful mission. Not only must they be able to handle the flight, but also any emotional issues and/or personality conflicts that may arise. To test these attributes, different countries created their own set of tests in order to observe how their candidates handled psychological stress. Japan had their candidates fold one thousand paper cranes to observe their patience under stress forensically. “How do the first ten cranes compare to the last?” A lack of accuracy indicated impatience. Another test that was very clever was the broken toilet test. A group of people in a small, enclosed environment with no toilet for days would create a stressful situation, the likes of which I cannot even imagine. All the space programs wanted their astronauts to be able to handle any and all imminent catastrophes with a clear mind. Many of the tests made perfect sense, like the Canadian’s test to escape a burning space capsule, for example. While other tests that seemed simple actually played tricks on the astronaut’s mind. For example, delaying lunch somedays, or interviewing them on the phone in the middle of the night. These tests observed if a candidate was able to handle any stress at any moment. Many of these tests may seem redundant or useless, but when a severe catastrophe occurs, a clear-minded, quick thinking astronaut is exactly who can be depended upon.

    1. Emily Nerbonne

      I really like how you pointed out the difference between the early astronausts compared to the present astronauts that are recruited for the space programs. When you look at the men that were selected back in the day, you can see that the scientists were looking for strong, physically stable men to go into space. Then, as the years progressed, the scientists were seeing that they need not only healthy, physically strong men, but they needed mentally and emotionally stable men and women to go up into space. Brute force isn’t going to aid you when you are stuck with quite a few people in a small enclosed place for a few months. You need to be able to handle many things mentally to be an astronaut. Also, you pointed out the many, many tests that up and coming astronauts are put through to become fit, mentally and physically, for the space programs. When you read about all the things that the analyst look to determine their mental stability for space flight. At one point, Mary Roach mentions the chicken skin that was put under the bowl. She talks about how that was going to be examined. Also, the way they package their meals or who eats first are major things to be analyzed. It’s crazy what all in examined to determine if one is able to be sent into space now a days.

  9. Jessica Mathews

    When I first started reading Packing for Mars by Mary Roach my thoughts were they are going to pack up and go to mars, not really sure what it was going to be about, after reading the first 4 chapters I have found it to be a rather interesting read. It is truly amazing what people go through to become an astronaut according to some of the tedious tasks, the circumstances in which they encounter and the many things we who are not astronauts never think about. The thought they put in about sending married couples versus individuals with no backgrounds together and how it would not necessarily work, how it could cause dangers and the consideration they had for the families I found interesting. I personally have always loved most things having to do with space travel especially movies on it! my discussion question I chose what if they didn’t only send a married couple but sets of families and get them trained on how to live in small quarters together how would that work out? I am sure it would take a lot of work and would by no means be easy but I can only imagine how cool that would be for a family to be able to experience, the kids could learn all the importance of farming and they would be able to help with any other tasks that would need to take place. then if a family goes you can study on how they are all able to work together and not have to worry about tearing a family apart.

    1. Emily Nerbonne

      Your question is really cool!! To be able to grow up in space would be an amazing experience. I think its a really cool idea to try an imagine about. Just today I heard that people had discovered 27 new planets that could be inhabitable. Though, to be able to get there, you would have to travel at the speed of light for roughly forty years. With your question, I was wondering more on the idea of sending families those planets to experience things like that. I mean, of course you would have to first figure out how to travel at the speed of light, but if you did, I think sending families would be a cool idea for that. You could send a young family there; and they would travel for forty years to the planet. Once they reach it, they could do experiments, but the kids would be able to come back. This idea is a funky thought, but it is a plausible one for sending families into space and being able to experience more.

    2. Michael Williams

      I think family space travel is a very complex situation. While for us as adults who have never been to space, it may seem like the dream childhood, but to a kid who just want’s to play and have fun being forced to live on a colony in a space suite may not exactly be desirable.

    3. Amanda Carr

      Jessica, I like your idea too. The first thought that came to my mind is what people would say about the kids when they returned to earth. My mind didn’t even really try to figure out a solution. I think while I was reading I just thought… What a hard job to do. I am so happy I do not have to make those hard decisions and try to figure out a better solution or idea that everyone has to agree on. What a headache!
      “Those darn kids are like aliens!” HaHa? Just trying to be funny…

  10. Michael Williams

    Like almost every young child ever, I always dreamed of going to space. I thought It would be the coolest experience possible, and still do in some ways. That being said the realities of space travel are rather startling. Traveling in space is no picnic and has serious long term consequences, not too mention the insane amounts of preparation outlined in this book. People tend to romanticize the idea of being in space without taking into account how difficult it is mentally and physically. No one wants to ruin their dreamy ideas of flying through the stars with the reality of having to shit in a bucket for a year….

  11. Hunter Young

    When I first started reading “Packing for Mars,” I didn’t really know what to expect. I kind of thought (maybe based off of the cover and our other assignment this week) that it was going be a science fiction novel about astronauts, but it was completely different. I was really happy to find out how easy this was to read. For some reason I thought it might be complex like some of the readings from the book we just finished, but I think since this is a larger platform it will be ultimately easier to interpret all of this information at once. My favorite part about this section was the personality and psychological testing that is done before the astronauts are chosen for the program. I guess I didn’t really ever think about it, but I’m sure it takes a very specific person to be able to go into space and be apart from normal life for so long in an isolated shell. I couldn’t help but also comically think that if they’re sending people into space in a isolated location, they better all get along or else that would be completely awful. I’m really excited to finish this novel. I think it will open up this childhood dream so many of us have of becoming astronauts.

  12. Amanda Carr

    I have been pleasantly surprised by “Packing For Mars”. It is such a fun read. I feel like I am getting to know some of NASAS’s deepest darkest secrets. Mary Roach does a great job putting a fun twist on what the scientist and astronauts have to go through preparing for a trip into space. It is great how she takes the littlest detail like how much man power and thought had to go into what seems like a simple task, like making sure the American flag would look like it was blowing in the wind when planted on the moon. Then finding out that after the space shuttle takes off from the moon the flag was probably blown down from the engine blast.
    Mary is able to tell you some of the obstacles NASA’s scientist’s are able to figure out one way or another but Mary clearly states in her first sentence that, “To the rocket scientists, you are the problem.”
    From what I have read in these first few chapters, this is what she is really going to be getting at. The hardest part of space travel is us… the humans. Even though these humans that will be traveling through space are extremely smart and have been through some of the hardest training and high expectations on this planet, in the end they are still humans. There is a quote I underlined on page 29 that says, “Oh my god, they’re just people.”
    They are just people like you and me, who have all the same struggles and feelings we have. The struggles these astronauts have at work are the same struggles I have. Our moms have tried to teach from age one, “Get along and share.” This is so much easier said then done.
    It is hard to get along with some people and then trying to get along and work as a team can almost seem impossible. The thing that is encouraging is that, when we do learn to get a long and work as a team, we can accomplish amazing feats like landing on the moon.

    1. Rebekah Melchior-Waldron

      I definitely agree that Mary Roach did a good job putting some fun in this book about astronauts. I had forgotten about the beginning part about the flag flying until I read your comment. I enjoyed that part and I thought it was a really go set up for what seems to be the theme of the book, everyday mundane human problems in space travel.

  13. Rebekah Melchior-Waldron

    My favorite part of this book so far is when the author compared gravity go God. I found that to be a unique and intriguing metaphor. “Gravity is why there are suns and planets in the first place. It is practically God (85).” What a fascinating way to think about this topic. Often the sun is thought of as the source of all life, whereas the author asserts it’s really gravity.
    Another thing that I’m sure many others found interesting was the bit about the primates that begins chapter four. That was a hard part to read. I wanted to learn a little more about the different Alberts that were used in the program and I discovered some disheartening pictures through google. The saddest part is it seems as if most of the Alberts died tragically, from mishandling or parachute malfunctions.
    The last thing I want to discuss is the bit in chapter two about the difficulties of simulating reality for training astronauts for spacewalks. I find it interesting that standing on the top of a telephone pole is the best comparison. More interestingly was when the author mentioned phone company applicants are made to stand atop poles as well. “To get a very mild sense of what it’s like, climb a telephone pole (while wearing a safety harness), and then try to stand up on the flat , pie-sized top of the pole–as self-empowerment seminar attendees and phone company applicants are sometimes made to do. ‘Phone companies lose about a third of their trainees in the first few weeks…’”(71). I found this interesting because it takes something like space travel and compares it to a real life situation that an everyday person could imagine. Which makes sense since both have the same author. This reminds me of the BASN book incorporating humor into science to keep readers’ attention.

    1. Erin Dodds

      You know, I had never heard a professor in any of my classes refer to gravity in such a way. While it was not shocking to me to read that part, I agree that it is an interesting view on the subject.
      I tried to read through the Albert part as quickly as possible because I too have an affinity for animals and did not want to think about the poor little things dying. 🙁
      I do think that Mary Roach does a good job at drawing a picture for us and putting the situations that astronauts are sometimes in in a context we can understand. Although there are many moments when she is taking a quote from someone she has interviewed and used that as an explanation. But that makes sense because the people that would best describe astronaut life would be astronauts. Although Roach has hinted that the next part of the book may describe her getting to be part of some of the action.

  14. Erin Dodds

    So far I enjoy Mary Roach’s writing. She brings humor into somethings I did not know could be funny. Like the “flag curtain” and all of the engineering it took. Cue eye roll. She also points out the similarities astronauts have to everyday people! Most people think of astronauts as the pinnacle of human fitness, intelligence, and overall strength. When we talk of them it is as if we speak of super human beings, so it is funny to me when I read materials like this. We have perceptions about people who work in certain fields or who are associated with certain groups. Although we gain these assumptions from our experiences, they are not always correct. I was very disappointed to hear about the way LaPierre was treated after being sexually assaulted, and that is all I will say about that. Okay, “one last grand erection” (70) was the part in the book so far that I actually said out loud, “WOW, really?!” There are many humorous moments in this book so far that had me laughing, but that was a golden moment. I think it is amazing how many people we have already seen Roach interview! So many sources, and lots of information in a short segment. Yet she continues to keep it entertaining and explains every facet of the book very well for the layman. But oh man do I hate physics. I did NOT enjoy reading an explanation of gravity and mass. I understand it, but I still hate it. (I’m scarred).
    Overall, I am really enjoying this book so far! It is interesting, not because I am learning new material, but mostly because the author is so entertaining!

    1. Thomas Vorderbruggen

      I like your comment about how Roach revealed astronauts as normal people. It reminded me of the section where she meets the old Russian astronaut during his grocery shopping.

  15. Thomas Vorderbruggen

    From the start of the book, Mary Roach does a wonderful job of telling the story she wants to tell. Her style of writing is scientific and informative enough that I found myself learning new things, yet informal enough that I was engaged with the occasional laugh. The idea of a enjoyable documentary is alive and well within the pages of ‘Packing for Mars’, where Mary Roach includes enough crude humor mixed with scientific analysis that I believe any one person would be able to enjoy. Although at times it felt like there was too many dick jokes in quick succession, overall I enjoyed what I have read of the book and look forward to reading it through its entirety. Roach makes complex science simple and easy to read, and the book itself feels at home in the backseat of a long road trip. Although I would not yet recommend this to personal friends, it is a book I am enjoying and, as far as books for assigned reading go, quite the hit.

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