The U.S. government established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on July 29, 1958. Celebrate the 50th anniversary of this agency with these histories, memoirs and novels that depict the work of NASA, its astronauts, and space travel.
Begin with the awe-inspiring images published in America in Space: NASA's First Fifty Years edited by Steven J. Dick. With over 400 photographs, this coffee-table sized book chronicles the history of NASA visually. You’ll see the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions of the 1960s, images from the Space Shuttle era, and much more.
The twelve robot spacecrafts launched in the 1970s by NASA yielded an amazing amount of information about our solar system. Beyond the Moon: A Golden Age of Planetary Exploration, 1971-1978 by Robert S. Kraemer details the story of those at NASA who made this happen.
Flight director during the 1960s and later director of NASA's Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center from 1972 to 1982, Chris Kraft writes about his experiences in Flight: My Life in Mission Control. He provides an insider’s account of the work done within the agency to move space exploration and travel forward.
Norman Mailer writes about the Apollo 11 flight of 1969 in Of a Fire on the Moon. Published in 1970, this nonfiction work provides a unique perspective on the space race at the time it took place. Mailer covers NASA, the astronauts, the scientific concepts behind the technology, and the launch “ all with a very personal tone.
If you’d like an overview of the history of women in space, start with Almost Heaven: The Story of Women in Space by Bettyann Holtzmann Kevles. From the 1960s to the present, Kevles highlights the challenges women faced and profiles the women’s personal stories, placing them within their historical and cultural context.
Mike Mullane tells the story of his life in Riding Rockets: The Outrageous Tales of a Space Shuttle Astronaut. A member of the NASA class of 1978, Mullane flew on three missions between 1984 and 1990. With an entertaining style, he depicts what life was like for all astronauts.
Read about the first astronaut to orbit earth in John Glenn: A Memoir. This thrilling autobiography moves from Glenn’s small town childhood in Ohio to his combat missions as a fighter pilot in two wars to his experience as one of the original Mercury astronauts. He also writes of his years as a U.S. senator and finishes this gripping account with his final space flight at age 77.
Considered a classic, The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe chronicles the lives of the test pilots, specifically Chuck Yeager, and the original “Mercury Seven” astronauts: Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard, and Deke Slayton.
Space travel in fiction
If all of these histories and memoirs have you yearning for a few good yarns about space travel, start with Moonrise by Ben Bova. Named the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Book by Library Journal, this novel depicts a future where development of outer space has been privatized. Most of the action takes place on the moon where one family works to create an inhabitable society.
It’s the year 2020 and former astronaut Reid Malenfant helps investigate possible alien robotic life in Manifold: Space by Stephen Baxter. This novel’s enormous scope moves across time and puts science at the center stage.
Winner of the Hugo Award, Nebula Award and others, the classic science fiction novel Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke won’t disappoint. A mysterious alien object appears in space and humans send a ship to investigate this craft, called Rama.