The best books on the human and technical excellence behind the Apollo Moon missions

Who am I?

Hot Moon, my new alternate-Apollo thriller set entirely on and around the Moon, is my labor of love and the book I always wanted to write. I grew up in Yorkshire, England, far from Cape Kennedy and Mission Control, but was always obsessed with the Apollo Program and with astronomy and space in general. This passion (nudged along by shows like Doctor Who, UFO, and Star Trek) eventually led to degrees in Physics and Astrophysics from Oxford. I now live in the US and work for NASA studying black holes and other bizarre celestial objects.

I wrote...

Hot Moon

By Alan Smale,

Book cover of Hot Moon

What is my book about?

Apollo 32, commanded by career astronaut Vivian Carter, docks at NASA’s Columbia space station in lunar orbit en route to its main mission: exploring the volcanic Marius Hills region of the Moon. Vivian is caught in the crossfire as four Soviet craft appear without warning to assault the orbiting station. In an unplanned and desperate move, Vivian spacewalks through hard vacuum back to her Lunar Module and crew, and escapes right before the station falls into Soviet hands.

Their original mission scrubbed, Vivian and her crew are redirected to land at Hadley Base, a NASA scientific outpost with a crew of eighteen. But soon Hadley, too, will come under Soviet attack, forcing its unarmed astronauts to daring acts of ingenuity and improvisation. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut's Journeys

Why did I love this book?

Michael Collins walked in space on the Gemini 10 mission in 1966, and three years later orbited the Moon as the Command Module Pilot on Apollo 11. But in addition to being an adventurous and thoroughly competent astronaut, Collins was also a fabulous writer. Detailed, evocative, thoughtful–philosophical, even, and often subtly humorous–Michael Collins weaves a fascinating story about his experiences on Earth and in space. If you only ever read one book penned by an astronaut, make it this one. It’s almost as good as being in space yourself.

By Michael Collins,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Carrying the Fire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Reissued with a new preface by the author on the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 journey to the moon

The years that have passed since Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins piloted the Apollo 11 spacecraft to the moon in July 1969 have done nothing to alter the fundamental wonder of the event: man reaching the moon remains one of the great events―technical and spiritual―of our lifetime.

In Carrying the Fire, Collins conveys, in a very personal way, the drama, beauty, and humor of that adventure. He also traces his development from his first flight experiences in the…

Book cover of How Apollo Flew to the Moon

Why did I love this book?

You’ll find a thousand books that tell the Apollo story, describing the missions and the astronauts and the drama, and A Man on the Moon by Andrew Chaikin is most people’s gateway drug. It’s a great book. But being on the technical side myself–and needing all those messy in-depth technical details to get my own book right–I found Woods’ book perfect for delving deep into the scientific and technical ingenuity of the missions, of all the procedures and maneuvers from launch through splashdown, and many other fascinating aspects that other books leave out. If you’ve ever read an Apollo history and wondered: “But how did that really work, how long did it take, what was the process, why did they do it that way?” or even just “Uh, they did what, now?” then this is totally the book for you.

By W. David Woods,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked How Apollo Flew to the Moon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Stung by the pioneering space successes of the Soviet Union - in particular, Gagarin being the first man in space, the United States gathered the best of its engineers and set itself the goal of reaching the Moon within a decade. In an expanding 2nd edition of How Apollo Flew to the Moon, David Woods tells the exciting story of how the resulting Apollo flights were conducted by following a virtual flight to the Moon and its exploration of the surface. From launch to splashdown, he hitches a ride in the incredible spaceships that took men to another world, exploring…

Book cover of Apollo 13 Owners' Workshop Manual: An insight into the development, events and legacy of NASA's 'successful failure'

Why did I love this book?

Haynes Manuals: they’re not just for cars anymore. Haynes also publishes books dedicated to the technical details of planes you’ll never own or service, and spacecraft you’ll never fly in. They’re detailed, they’re technical, and they’re geek gold. With a million color pictures and cutaway diagrams, and text crammed with comprehensive engineering details, the Haynes' Apollo 13 volume is a perfect companion to my Woods pick, or a great standalone in getting literally beneath the skin of the Apollo spacecraft and seeing exactly how all the moving parts worked. By all means buy the Haynes' Apollo 11 Manual too (I did), but I think this one has the edge in terms of technical depth–and you obviously get the full backstory of this aborted and almost disastrous Lost Moon mission too.

By David Baker,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Apollo 13 Owners' Workshop Manual as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A special new edition of Apollo 13 Manual, published to coincide with the 50th Anniversary of the Moon mission launched in April 1970, which very nearly turned into a catastrophe. New content includes an expanded look at what was learned from the analysis of the problems that precipitated the crisis, and how these lessons affected the future space programme, and also a look at the worldwide reaction to the crisis, as the the international community held its breath. This Haynes Manual tells the story of the complex technical challenges involved in returning the crippled spacecraft safely to Earth, explained in…

Book cover of Apollo: The Epic Journey to the Moon, 1963-1972

Why did I love this book?

As a break from the two hardcore technical volumes above, my next pick is a coffee table book stuffed with awesome historical photos and graphics, that tells the story of the Apollo Program in a more straightforward and traditional fashion, but also delves into the politics, the science of what we learned about lunar geology, and so on. There’s no shortage of big glossy Apollo books, but for my money this is the most complete and absorbing, and has all the best pictures. 

By David West Reynolds,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Apollo as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


Space expert David West Reynolds takes you on a historical journey through the world’s most renowned space program. Featuring a wealth of rare photographs, artwork, and cutaway illustrations, Apollo recaptures the excitement of the USA’s journey to the moon. From the adventurous astronauts to the scientists and engineers who designed and built the state-of-the-art spacecraft, Reynolds covers every aspect of this epic voyage. Through concise description, he introduces the uninitiated to this thrilling episode in U.S. history while also providing engaging details for the space aficionado. All of the key events and personalities are presented, creating a clear picture of…

Book cover of The Last Man on the Moon: Astronaut Eugene Cernan and America's Race in Space

Why did I love this book?

If you only ever read two books penned by astronauts, this should be the second. Gene Cernan flew on Gemini 9, Apollo 10, and Apollo 17; on this final mission in 1972 he was the last man to walk on the Moon as part of the Apollo Program. Like Collins, Cernan sheds the astronaut tough-guy image to show us the human cost of the Apollo Program, as well as the bravery and glory of the enterprise. He’s unflinchingly honest, but also thoughtful and sometimes lyrical about his space experiences, and always entertaining. Of all the astronauts, Cernan might have been my first choice as a dinner companion; I’d have loved to talk with him about his three EVAs covering 22 hours of lunar exploration. That would have been terrific.

By Eugene Cernan, Donald A. Davis,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Last Man on the Moon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Eugene Cernan is a unique American who came of age as an astronaut during the most exciting and dangerous decade of spaceflight. His career spanned the entire Gemini and Apollo programs, from being the first person to spacewalk all the way around our world to commanding Apollo XVII, man's last mission to the moon. Between those two historic events lay more adventures than an ordinary person could imagine as Cernan repeatedly put his life, his family and everything he held dear on the altar of an obsessive desire. Written with "New York Times" bestselling author Don Davis, this is the…

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Interested in the moon, astronauts, and the Apollo program?

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