Lists

8 Stellar Nonfiction Space Reads

 

Voyager 1 explores the magnetic highway © NASA JPL

Space has been a passion of mine since I was a little kid. Growing up on Star Trek and Star Wars, I always looked to the sky above me, especially when I didn’t fit in with the other kids at school. Because I couldn’t go there myself (at least not yet), I read as much as I could about the cosmos above me – I still do.

Now, with Space Week upon us, I wanted to share some of the best nonfiction books about space. These books have moved me, inspired me, even sometimes made me cry. They’ve made me frustrated with the rut our crewed space program seems stuck in while also being inspired by where we’ve been and where we can go from here. If you’re interested in books about space, these are some of the best of the best.

  • The cover of the book A Man on the Moon

    A Man on the Moon

    The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts

    If you’ve ever seen the HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon (and if you haven’t, I can’t recommend it highly enough), then you’re already familiar with Andy Chaikin’s history of our journey to the Moon. It was the primary source material used for the show. This is a long book, one that’s well worth reading (and is exciting and suspenseful enough that you won’t notice its length). It’s the definitive account of the Apollo missions, sourced from astronauts, insiders, and those who worked at NASA during the time, and it’s hard to exaggerate just how good it is.

     
  • The cover of the book Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut’s Journey

    Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut’s Journey

    Michael Collins was the third man aboard Apollo 11, the astronaut who stayed behind in the Apollo command module while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin descended to the lunar surface. His memoir is widely regarded as the best astronaut memoir out there, and for good reason. If you want to know what it felt like to be at NASA during the Apollo era, this is it. It’s long, but the pages fly by as Collins absorbs the reader in the details of his narrative. His frankness and honesty, rare in astronaut memoirs, are also refreshing.

     
  • The cover of the book Into the Black: The Extraordinary Untold Story of the First Flight of the Space Shuttle Columbia and the Astronauts Who Flew Her

    Into the Black: The Extraordinary Untold Story of the First Flight of the Space Shuttle Columbia and the Astronauts Who Flew Her

    The development of the Space Shuttle was riddled with delays, overages in budgets, and engineering challenges that appeared to be impossible. But against all odds, Columbia was ready for its first test flight on April 12, 1981. This riveting book tells the story of the development of the Shuttle and what that first test flight was like, when John Young and Bob Crippen took an untested, untried spacecraft outside the Earth’s atmosphere.

     
  • The cover of the book Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space

    Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space

    This biography of Sally Ride is a gorgeous look at the private astronaut who was thrust onto the world stage when she became the first American woman to fly in space. Ride kept many secrets hidden from the public — even some of her close friends didn’t know that, at the time of her death, she had been in a relationship with a woman for decades — but she also dedicated her life to service. She participated in both the Challenger and Columbia investigations, and forged a path through NASA’s male-dominated culture that opened the door for more women at all levels in the organization.

     
  • The cover of the book How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming

    How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming

    Do you remember when Pluto was still a planet? If you’re upset that it’s not (despite the fact that it makes sense), Mike Brown is the person you should be pointing fingers at. After all, Brown was the one to discover our solar system’s tenth planet back in 2005. Called Eris, it was actually bigger than Pluto. Rather than accept our solar system had ten planets, though (and beyond — there may be hundreds of these objects waiting to be discovered), scientists began to debate what exactly a planet is, and if it wasn’t time to redefine the definitions of what we thought we knew. You might be mad at Brown, but it’s hard to hate him after reading this charming book.

     
  • The cover of the book Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space

    Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space

    You’ve been hearing a lot about gravitational waves recently — the fourth detection just happened — but what are they? How did we discover them? Those are the questions Janna Levin seeks to answer in her excellent book Black Hole Blues. Einstein first predicted these waves, created by the collision of two black holes, back in 1916. Scientists spent fifty years trying to detect them, and Levin takes us through the ins and outs of each discovery and each personality on the case.

     
  • The cover of the book Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void

    Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void

    How do humans live in space? What does it take for life to survive in the void of outer space? That’s the question that science writer Mary Roach tackles in her book Packing for Mars. Roach studies the different concerns of living in space, and the politics and tech behind who we send there and why. In her usual style, Roach asks questions on subjects that most science writers wouldn’t think to broach, and the result is a mostly quirky, always fascinating look at life in space.

     
  • The cover of the book The Interstellar Age

    The Interstellar Age

    The Story of the NASA Men and Women Who Flew the Forty-Year Voyager Mission

    When you think of America’s space program, it’s easy to think solely of the brave astronauts who have risked their lives over the years to fly in space. But our unmanned space program is thriving in the form of spacecraft and robots. This history takes the reader back through the Voyager program, from its inception to the present day. It’s hard not to be astonished at what this team accomplished — after all, two of the Voyager spacecraft have left the system and are now traveling in interstellar space.