The best engaging books on space exploration

The Books I Picked & Why

Gemini: A Personal Account of Man's Venture into Space

By Virgil I. Grissom

Gemini: A Personal Account of Man's Venture into Space

Why this book?

When researching the early US Space Program, something about Grissom drew me in, wanting to learn more about the man. He completed the first draft of this book just weeks before his tragic death in the Apollo 1 test fire. His editor, Jacob Hay, polished the book into its final form with the approval of Grissom’s wife, Betty, and it was published in 1968. In the introduction to the book, Grissom plainly says he wrote this for his sons, so they could have an idea of the “weird, wonderful enterprise their father was lucky enough to have a part in fulfilling.” It’s not a technical manual or an outside observer’s report, it’s an inside story of what the race to the moon was like and why Grissom thought the moon was a worthy endeavor.   


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Live from Cape Canaveral: Covering the Space Race, from Sputnik to Today

By Jay Barbree

Live from Cape Canaveral: Covering the Space Race, from Sputnik to Today

Why this book?

This is a must-read for anyone who wants to follow the history of the US Space program from the very first launch onward. Barbree was the only journalist to cover every launch and while doing so met many of the astronauts and provides behind-the-scenes stories of dedication and comraderie. I had the privilege to participate in a book signing with Mr. Barbree at the US Space Museum in Titusville, FL in 2014. He’s a funny man who has loved all things space since the launch of Sputnik. This book is filled with humor, personal stories, and an understanding of how the media coverage of the space program and NASA has changed over the years. Barbree has also written an outstanding biography of Neil Armstrong, completed just prior to this pioneer’s death. 


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An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me about Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything

By Chris Hadfield

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me about Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything

Why this book?

This is a more contemporary book, but Hadfield has a talent for entertaining writing. By the time I finished, I felt like I’d traveled along the journey with him and believed I would enjoy having him as a friend. I like the direction he took, tying lessons learned while with NASA to things we can all use in our own lives. With the number of astronaut biographies/memoirs available, this unique approach made it stand out. He also talks about the decade between his second and third missions when he filled a variety of roles at Johnson Space Center, revealing that the life of an astronaut is not all thrills and stargazing. If more people learned to think like astronauts, looking for problems and how to solve them before they arise, I think we’d overcome many of the obstacles that now hold us back from our full potential.   


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Elon Musk: Tesla, Spacex, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future

By Ashlee Vance

Elon Musk: Tesla, Spacex, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future

Why this book?

People either love or hate Elon Musk. I fall into the camp of deeply admiring all he has accomplished and the brillance of the way his mind works. Before reading this book, I knew he was driven and has accomplished things others have spent years struggling with. As I read, I learned just how smart and determined he is. Failure isn’t an option for him, nor is focusing on one project enough to keep him content. His life has been messy in several respects, and much of that is captured in this book. To be sure, his lack of a filter when dealing with people as well as his overly optimistic timelines on just about every project have rubbed people the wrong way, but this insight into the way his mind works and the out-of-the-box way he’s gone about building his companies just might change the opinions of some haters. In many ways, he’s made science and engineering cool, but he’s also worked hard to get where he is with an ambitious future still lying ahead. 


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The Martian

By Andy Weir

The Martian

Why this book?

In my opinion, the book is way better than the movie. There is so much interior monologue that just doesn’t come across in the movie, and that monologue is laugh out loud funny at times. Yes, there are some unrealistic elements to the story, but its fiction and creative license are acceptable. If you’re in need of an engaging story that will bring you bursts of laughter, check this book out!


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