Though it’s been over 50 years since humans first made it into space, space travel still astounds us. The “great beyond” has yet to be fully explored, but if history is any indication, then humanity is determined to see the entire universe. From firsthand accounts by astronauts who have been there, like Buzz Aldrin and Gordon Cooper, to detailed information about the behind the scenes staff who helped make space flight possible, these nine books will engross you in real tales about space travel.
Leap of Faith
An astronaut during the early days of NASA, Gordon Cooper's career is full of accolades. He was the first American to sleep in space, and the last American to conduct an orbital mission alone. He was the youngest of the seven original astronauts in Project Mercury, and piloted the longest (and) last Mercury spaceflight. Cooper's memoir Leap of Faith takes us inside NASA, as we experience what it was like at the beginning and how the different projects Cooper was apart of—including Apollo and Gemini—have influenced space travel today.
Return to Earth
Famous astronaut Buzz Aldrin needs no introduction: As a member of the Apollo 11 crew, he was one of the first two humans to land on the Moon and the second person to walk on it. In his memoir, Return to Earth, Aldrin details how the moon landing and gaining instant fame and recognition changed his life … not necessarily for the better.
Journalist Richard Tregaskis tells the story of the X-15, a hypersonic rocket-powered aircraft that served as the first crewed flight into outer space and still holds the world record for highest speed ever recorded by a crewed, powered aircraft at 4,520 miles per hour—set in 1967. The aircraft laid the foundation for missions to come, and in this thrilling read Tregaskis details everything from the breakthroughs in technology to disastrous onboard explosions.
Challenger: An American Tragedy
On January 28, 1986, just 73 seconds after launch, the Challenger spacecraft exploded—killing all seven crewmembers on board. Hugh Harris, the voice of missions control on that cold day at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, writes about the tragic accident that halted the space program and changed the lives of so many forever.
Written by astronauts Alan Shepherd and Deke Slayton, in collaboration with NBC veteran space reporter Jay Barbree, Moon Shot tells the story of the golden years of the space exploration program. When the Soviet Union launched Sputnik I into space in 1957, the Space Race began. NASA initially recruited seven military test pilots to be a part of Mercury Seven, including Shepherd and Slayton, with the aim of launching a man into orbit. Moon Shot is the astronauts’ inside account of the exciting and dangerous leap into space.
Sally Ride: America's First Woman in Space
ABC reporter Lynn Sherr, who covered NASA as it became more inclusive of female astronauts, tells the story of Sally Ride—the astronaut who became the first American woman in space in 1983. Though Ride left NASA in 1987 after flying twice on the Orbiter Challenger, she served on the investigating panels of both the Challenger and Columbia disasters—citing NASA’s rush to meet deadlines as one of the factors behind the tragedies. Ride kept her personal life private; but with insights from her family and partner, this biography is full of detail about the life of a revolutionary woman.
Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race
You’ve seen the Oscar-nominated film, but have you read the book? Margot Lee Shetterly’s biographical book about the Human Computers, including Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, uncovers a forgotten piece of important history. Prior to John Glenn orbiting Earth, these dedicated female mathematicians calculated the numbers used to launch rockets into space. Covering World War II, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Space Race, Hidden Figures offers enormous insight into the people behind the scenes that made space travel possible.
How to Make a Spaceship: A Band of Renegades, an Epic Race, and the Birth of Private Spaceflight
NASA isn’t involved in all space flights. This book tells the true story of Peter Diamandis, the man who initiated the privatization of space travel with the X Prize Foundation, which he founded in 1996—offering a $10 million prize to the first privately financed team that could build and fly a three-passenger vehicle into space twice in two weeks. Julian Guthrie recounts the true story of a new kind of space race, and the team that won.
An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything
Traveling through space isn’t as glamorous as movies make it out to be—it’s more than somersaulting through the anti-gravity corridors of your spacecraft. Retired astronaut Chris Hadfield was the first Canadian to walk in space, and has logged more than 4,000 hours there. Hadfield recounts lessons he’s learned, both in space and back on Earth, and his philosophy that regardless of what happens, it's important to enjoy every moment.
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Featured photo: NASA / Unsplash