The Space Race: 10 Biographies

From astronauts to engineers and other space pioneers, these ten biographies help tell the story of the Space Race.

The Right Stuff
By Tom Wolfe
The first Americans in space--Yeager, Conrad, Grissom, and Glenn--battle the Russians for control of the heavens and put their lives on the line to demonstrate a quality beyond courage, in this classic by Wolfe.

Promised the Moon: The Untold Story of the First Women in the Space Race
By Stephanie Nolen
A female world-record-setting pilot, Jerrie Cobb was recruited in 1959 to take the astronaut tests. She excelled, so the doctor who supervised the selection of NASA's Mercury astronauts recruited additional female pilots. Twelve performed exceptionally. Stephanie Nolen tracked down eleven of the surviving "Fellow Lady Astronaut Trainees" and learned the story of those early days of the space race and the disappointment when, in 1961, the women were grounded.

Von Braun: Dreamer of Space, Engineer of War
By Michael J. Neufeld
Michael J. Neufeld, curator and space historian at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, delivers a nuanced biography of Wernher von Braun. Chief rocket engineer of the Third Reich and one of the fathers of the U.S. space program, Wernher von Braun is a source of consistent fascination. Glorified as a visionary and vilified as a war criminal, he was a man of profound moral complexities, whose intelligence and charisma were coupled with an enormous and, some would say, blinding ambition. Neufeld spoke at the Library in January 2008.

The Rocket Boys book jacket

The Rocket Boys: A Memoir
By Homer H. Hickam, Jr.
The Rocket Boys (adapted into the movie, October Sky) is a uniquely American memoir -- a powerful, luminous story of coming of age at the dawn of the 1960s, of a mother's love and a father's fears, of a group of young men who dreamed of launching rockets into outer space ... and who made those dreams come true. With the grace of a natural storyteller, NASA engineer Homer Hickam paints a warm, vivid portrait of the harsh West Virginia mining town of his youth, evoking a time of innocence and promise, when anything was possible.

Into that Silent Sea: Trailblazers of the Space Era, 1961-1965
By Francis French and Colin Burgess
This book tells the intimate stories of the men and women, American and Russian, who made the space race their own and gave the era its compelling character.

Flight: My Life in Mission Control
By Chris Kraft
The Right Stuff meets Rocket Boys in this bestselling memoir by the man who helped create some of the greatest moments in U.S. space history as the first NASA flight director. From its infancy to its glory days, from near-disasters to astonishing triumphs, this book relives the events that captured the imagination of the world.

 A Memoir book jacket

John Glenn: A Memoir
By John Glenn with Nick Taylor
The first American to orbit the Earth, John Glenn spent a lifetime accomplishing the extraordinary: as a Marine fighter pilot in World War II and the Korean War, a record-setting supersonic test pilot, the international symbol for America in space, and as a U.S. Senator.

Almost Heaven: The Story of Women in Space
By Bettyann Holtzmann Kevles
Almost Heaven tells the stories of the remarkable women who have bravely met two challenges: the risk of space travel and the struggle to succeed in a man's world. From Valentina Tereshkova in 1963 and Sally Ride in 1983 to Kalpana Chawla and Lauren Clark on the last flight of the Columbia, these women made history. Bettyann Holtzmann Kevles brings the women of space to life in this fascinating book, describing what motivates them, the pioneers who paved the way for them, and how their presence in the astronaut corps changed NASA.

Rocket Man: The Life and Legends of Robert H. Goddard, American Pioneer of Space Flight
By David A. Clary
More famous in his day than Einstein or Edison, the troubled, solitary genius Robert H. Goddard (1882-1945) was the American father of rocketry and space flight, launching the world's first liquid-fuel rockets and the first powered vehicles to break the sound barrier.

Korolev: How One Man Masterminded the Soviet Drive to Beat America to the Moon
By James Harford
This is a history of the Soviet space program from the 1930s to the 1970s, focusing on Sergei Korolev, the man who built the space program, started the "space race," and dominated the program until his death in 1966.

Book descriptions provided by BookLetters.

Comments:

German space pioneers

I would recommend two additional books, that deal specifically with the topic of this talk:

The first, by Fred Ordway and Mitch Sharpe, is "The Rocket Team," originally published in the 1970s, and re-published recently by Apogee books.

The second, by Marsha Freeman, is "How We Got to the Moon: The Story of the German Space Pioneers," which was published by 21st Century Science in 1993, and is out of print, but is available on amazon.com.

I find that these sources are more accurate and less ideologically motivated than some of the newer offerings.

Marsha Freeman

Nazi Germany revisionism query.

Unfortunately, Marsha Freeman is well known for her own ideological twist on the story of the rocket engineers who came to the US from Nazi Germany. I would not recommend her books or message as an impartial source. In fact, I don't believe her views are appropriate for a public library forum, and suggest the moderators remove her message.

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