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Nonfiction Space Books


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Hi all,

I've been searching for a booklist on this forum of this type. Is there such a thread already? I've built up a bit of a library of books on space exploration and history and would share this with you.

(So far: found a thread on orbital mechanics textbooks, and one on books about the Apollo program. I'm aiming for a more general space book thread, nonfiction)

If there isn't such a thread already I'll start building this one up, and please join in with your lists! :cool:

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Red Rover: Inside the Story of Robotic Space Exploration, from Genesis to the Mars Rover Curiosity by Roger Wiens

Ambassadors from Earth: Pioneering Explorations with Unmanned Spacecraft by Jay Gallantine

Two really good books on unmanned exploration from my collection.

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Space Nonfiction Book List.

(Title subheads are in parentheses)

I will occasionally update this list to include your additions. Thanks for contributing!

Space Programs


  • Apollo (The Race to the Moon)– Charles Murray & Catherine Bly Cox. Fantastic history of Apollo, mainly focuses on the engineers and managers who made it happen.
  • Virtual Apollo / Virtual LM (two books) – Scott Sullivan. Extremely detailed, 3D computer drawings showing everything that goes into a CSM and LM.
  • Apollo 11 Moon Landing – David Shayler. Mission description, photos and transcripts. Very interesting.
  • Moon Dust – Andrew Smith. Our journalist protagonist set out in about 2003/2004 to interview all the still living men who walked on the moon, after the death of Pete Conrad. (Jim Irwin was already gone by then.) He manages to talk to all of them, and found out how they dealt with life after coming back from the moon. Often surprising, and very human.
  • A Man on the Moon – Andrew Chaikin. Famous Apollo history, I believe used as the basis of the HBO miniseries “From the Earth to the Moon.â€Â

(For Bios of astronauts, flight directors and Goddard, see below. For US Space Exploration and Encyclopedias of US Spacecraft, also see below.)


  • Soyuz – Rex Hall & David Shayler. Everything you’d ever want to know about design, history and operation of the Soyuz spacecraft. From 2003, reprinted 2007 (so doesn’t include the latest versions of Soyuz or recent missions)
  • Red Star in Orbit – James Oberg. From 1981, and a great read. This was written during the height of the Cold War, and gives the Soviets their due. I learned a lot from this book.
  • The Soviet Space Race with Apollo – Asif Siddiqi. Dense, detailed scholarly analysis of the Soviet lunar attempt.

(For Korolev Bio, and Encyclopedic info on Soviet Spacecraft, see below)

China’s Space Program – Brian Harvey. Good history and summary of China’s space efforts.

History / Biographies

  • Korolev – James Hartford. About the fabled and mysterious “Chief Designer†whose life and personality are beyond belief. If he hadn’t died in 1966, the Soviets might have beat the USA to the moon.
  • Carrying the Fire (An Astronaut’s Journey) – Michael Collins. Perhaps the best astronaut biography there is. This man has a gift for words and humor.
  • Failure is Not an Option – Gene Kranz. Memoir about Gene’s time as flight director at NASA, spanning Mercury and all Apollo. He was memorably involved in helping save Apollo 13. And well regarded as a great flight director and fine human being.
  • To a Distant Day (The Rocket Pioneers) – Chris Gainor. I really enjoyed this history of rocket development. Equal time is given to Tsiolkovsky, Goddard, Oberth, Von Braun, Korolev and others.
  • Rocket Man (Robert H. Goddard and the Birth of the Space Age) – David Clary. Good biography of Goddard, whose career was far rougher than I had imagined. Explains (but doesn’t really excuse) his reclusiveness, and jealousy at others possibly "stealing" his work in liquid fueled rocket development. As we know, Tsiolkovsky had independently…and before Goddard…developed much of the theory, meanwhile in Germany and Russia, other groups did similar work in liquid fueled rockets after Goddard, but did not collaborate with him thanks to his unwillingness to share. He wasn’t credited as a rocket pioneer until after his death, as the US Government at the time was not that interested in his achievements.

Space Exploration / Reference Books

  • The Case for Mars (The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must) – Robert Zubrin. This may be considered a classic now, among those of us who hunger for space exploration and turn our eyes to Mars. From 1996. I attended a presentation of his at Stanford U. at about this time. As expected, he talked about getting humans to Mars.
  • Mars (The Inside Story of the Red Planet) – Heather Couper and Nigel Henbest. From 2001. I received this as a gift and haven’t read it through. It’s a big, illustrated look at Mars in popular culture, exploring Mars and looking for life and other related topics. This books is perhaps 5-10 years premature, seeing that there have been successful and science-rich rover programs in the intervening years. But no life found on Mars yet.
  • Red Rover: Inside the Story of Robotic Space Exploration, from Genesis to the Mars Rover Curiosity - Roger Wiens
  • Interplanetary Spacecraft – Bill Yenne (et. al.). From 1988, a very cool book on how to develop an interplanetary spacecraft and its mission. Darn interesting, I ought to do more than just skim it someday.
  • To the Edge of the Universe (The Exploration of Outer Space with NASA) – Exeter Books. From 1986, very nice look at the history of astronomy and space science, then how the early space probes sought to expand those frontiers. Many good illustrations, as you’d expect. There’s a value to these early books: They’re full of questions and wonder, and plenty of intelligence, perhaps more so than today’s books that seem to start out with “well, we’ve seen this before from 30 years ago…†(This book possibly not available separately, came as part of a three-book set.)
  • The Encyclopedia of Soviet Spacecraft – Douglas Hart. I had to grab this when I saw it in a used bookstore. It’s from 1987, and is absolutely packed with images, many taken at a space museum in the Soviet Union. Plenty of diagrams, cutaways, etc. Much of this information became commonplace after the early 1990s, so note the 1987 date and be impressed. This was my main source of info on Soviet Probes until I purchased the recent “Space Probes†book below.
  • The Encyclopedia of US Spacecraft – Bill Yenne. From 1985. Devotes most of the space to spacecraft and their missions, has a section on launch vehicles near the end. (This book possibly not available separately, came as part of a three-book set.)
  • History of NASA (America’s Voyage to the Stars) – Bison Books. From 1987, revised and updated since original 1984 publication. Not a lot new or groundbreaking here. (This book possibly not available separately, came as part of a three-book set.)
  • SPACEFLIGHT (The Complete Story from Sputnik to Shuttleâ€â€and Beyond) – Giles Sparrow (Foreword by Buzz Aldrin). Very nice, beautifully illustrated, encyclopedic history of spacecraft, spaceflight, missions and the people who flew them. From 2007, and has sections on Chinese and Indian space programs toward the end.
  • SPACE PROBES (50 Years of Exploration from Luna 1 to New Horizons) – Philippe Séguéla. Wonderfully illustrated, encyclopedic history of space probes. Divided into sections devoted to the body being explored, starting with the Moon and including Venus, Mars, outer planets, Sun, etc. etc.
  • Pocket Space Guides by Apogee Books: Deep Space (Whitfield), Project Gemini (Whitfield), Russian Spacecraft (Godwin), Mars (Godwin), and others.
  • Pale Blue Dot - Carl Sagan. Also Cosmos by Carl Sagan. These are very good reads. He wasn't famous for no reason.
  • Ambassadors from Earth: Pioneering Explorations with Unmanned Spacecraft - Jay Gallantine

Photography / Art

  • LIFE in Space – Very large format book, largely a photographic history of the US manned space program including Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, the first few Space Shuttles, then some space probes. From 1983 (Yes, I’ve been dragging this around for 30 years). Many famous images here.
  • Entering Space (An Astronaut’s Odyssey) – Joseph Allen (with Russell Martin). Many pictures from orbit, including not only from the Space Shuttle. Some truly nice images here.
  • Visions of Spaceflight (Images from the Ordway Collection) – Fredrick Ordway III. When I saw this at a budget bookstore I just had to grab it. It’s full of space art images, old and new. Such as illustrations from the turn of the century, from Jules Verne and HG Wells stories, later followed by the Collier’s magazine space series. My favorites are the fabulous, nearly photorealistic illustrations of Chesley Bonestell and Fred Freeman from Collier’s, imagining what space stations, trips to Mars, and nuclear propulsion might look like. This is the classic stuff of summer daydreams.


  • Laika – Nick Abadzis. Graphic historical novel about Laika, the first earthling in orbit. (Spoiler: Like Old Yeller, it's about a dog, and it makes you cry at the end.)
  • The Space Shuttle Operator’s Manual – Kerry Mark Joels, Gergory P Kennedy & David Larkin. From 1982. What more could a space geek kid want? Every system, control panel, switch and dial described. Every procedure, and many missions. There’s a kind of mission patch on the front cover listing the names of the first 4 shuttles including of course Challenger and Columbia, no Endeavour yet. Comment: It makes me sad that despite the extremely high degree of public interest in the STS and the impressive transparency in its design (this manual even has a list of subsystem contractors for heaven’s sake), incorrect procedures and management decisions did in some cases lead to the loss of spacecraft and crew.

Edited by MajorThomas
Updating the list.
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