The best books for a graphic-novel exploration of space

Who am I?

When I was five years old, my father sat down with me in front of the television and we watched together as the Space Shuttle Columbia launched for the first time. Four decades later, I’ve authored a history of those early shuttle missions, been a part of developing future space missions, and, most importantly of all, watched several space firsts with my own son. Space exploration is humanity at its greatest – working together using the best of our abilities to overcome incredible challenges and improve life here on Earth – and I’m always grateful for the opportunity to share that inspiration with others.

I wrote...

Homesteading Space: The Skylab Story

By David Hitt, Owen Garriott, Joe Kerwin

Book cover of Homesteading Space: The Skylab Story

What is my book about?

As the United States and the Soviet Union went from exploring space to living in it, a space station was conceived as the logical successor to the Apollo moon program. But between conception and execution there was the vastness of space itself, to say nothing of monumental technological challenges. Homesteading Space, by two of Skylab’s own astronauts and a NASA journalist, tells the dramatic story of America’s first space station from beginning to fiery end.

Homesteading Space is much more than a story of technological and scientific success; it is also an absorbing, sometimes humorous, often inspiring account of the determined, hardworking individuals who shepherded the program through a near-disastrous launch, a heroic rescue, and an exhausting study of Comet Kohoutek, as well as the lab's ultimate descent into the Indian Ocean. 

The books I picked & why

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By Nick Abadzis,

Book cover of Laika

Why this book?

Beyond the science and technology that it takes to launch something into space, there’s a story with a deeply human heart. That human heart is very much the center of “Laika,” the story of the Soviet dog that was the first living creature to orbit Earth. This book is a glimpse into how space history was made, but also a sweet tribute to the dog that made it. (And if you like this book, consider picking up First in Space by James Vining, the story of space-chimp Ham, who helped pave the way for America’s Mercury 7 astronauts to fly!)

Moonbound: Apollo 11 and the Dream of Spaceflight

By Jonathan Fetter-Vorm,

Book cover of Moonbound: Apollo 11 and the Dream of Spaceflight

Why this book?

If you’re exploring space history, Apollo 11 is THE moment above all others – the first footsteps on another world. In Moonbound, Fetter-Vorm both captures and contextualizes that moment brilliantly, using the words of the astronauts themselves to share the story of the mission, while also giving the big picture that got them there – in the process unpacking everything from Galileo to the layers of a spacesuit.

Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier

By Jim Ottaviani, Maris Wicks (illustrator),

Book cover of Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier

Why this book?

For better or worse, this isn’t really a book that lives up to its name – or, at least, its subtitle. “Astronauts” isn’t really a history of women in space; it’s two early anecdotes tacked onto the story of Mary Cleave, one of NASA’s early female astronauts. And what a story it is – while many space graphic novels focus on the early years of spaceflight, “Astronauts” relates the experience of the Space Shuttle program that made up more than half of human spaceflight history and more closely resembles the space missions of today.

The Mars Challenge: The Past, Present, and Future of Human Spaceflight

By Alison Wilgus, Wyeth Yates (illustrator),

Book cover of The Mars Challenge: The Past, Present, and Future of Human Spaceflight

Why this book?

The first three books on this list are focused on the history of space exploration; The Mars Challenge is all about the future. Told us a conversation between an ambitious student and a more experienced space professional mentor, The Mars Challenge explores just that – the numerous challenges humanity will have to overcome before we can take the first steps on the Red Planet. In doing so, it threads a needle brilliantly – doing justice to the complexity of these challenges, but presenting them in a way that a lay reader can understand. The book is perfect for inspiring the next generation of explorers, and provides a fun read for adults who’d like an overview of the challenges of space.

Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey

By Nick Bertozzi,

Book cover of Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey

Why this book?

Including this book is a bit of a cheat, since it’s not actually about space. But the spirit of Ernest Shackleton and the Endurance crew’s journey to the Antarctic has permeated space exploration – the Shackleton crater at the lunar south pole is an intriguing potential landing site for future astronauts. While no one in “Shackleton” leaves the planet, the story this book tells about humanity’s passion for exploration, the risks of the unknown, and about endurance in the face of adversity is well worth reading for those passionate about our outward odyssey.

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