The best books on the Apollo program

2 authors have picked their favorite books about the Apollo program and why they recommend each book.

Soon, you will be able to filter by genre, age group, and more. Sign up here to follow our story as we build a better way to explore books.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission (learn more).

Full Moon

By Andrew Chaikin, Michael Light,

Book cover of Full Moon

As explorers carrying cameras, the Gemini and Apollo astronauts (1965-72) were like the pioneer photographers of the 19th century who, with their cameras, responded to the unknowns of the American West. These astronauts, however, were responding to the new and unexplored by photographing their experiences inside their spacecraft and outside in the vacuum of space. During the late 90s the photographer Michael Light gained access to NASA’s Apollo-era photo archive and made the first drum-scanned digital files from perfect copies of the original flight films. Light’s artful editing and juxtaposition of superbly reproduced full-page black and white, and color images creates a cinematic-like journey to the moon and back. In the annals of published space photography, there are very few well-designed books as timeless.


Who am I?

I’ve followed the history of space exploration since I was a kid! Although I spent decades photographing assignments in exotic international locations and co-authored visually driven books on astronomical phenomena, my dream was to photograph in NASA’s restricted space exploration work cultures. Never giving up, I achieved unprecedented access into the shuttle mission that saved the Hubble Space Telescope and, for more than a decade, with the New Horizons team that first explored the Pluto system. I’ve been published in media like Smithsonian, Nat Geo, WIRED, New Scientist, and NPR. Honored that my photographs of astronaut space tools are in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum.   


I wrote...

Infinite Worlds: The People and Places of Space Exploration

By Michael Soluri,

Book cover of Infinite Worlds: The People and Places of Space Exploration

What is my book about?

Infinite Worlds - the People and Places of Space Exploration is a visually driven, beautifully designed, and printed coffee table book that reveals the sublime art of human and robotic space exploration. With extraordinary access over several years into the restricted, behind-the-scenes work cultures of 3 NASA Spaceflight Centers, Michael photographically documented the craft and humanity that frames the team effort behind the historic last shuttle mission that essentially saved the Hubble Space Telescope. In addition, his observations are woven between 18 insightful first-person essays by some of the NASA astronaut crew, engineers, shuttle techs, and scientists who worked on this historic mission. Mercury astronaut John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth, wrote the introduction.

The Promise of Space

By Arthur C. Clarke,

Book cover of The Promise of Space

Although Arthur C. Clarke is usually regarded primarily as an author of science fiction (think 2001, Rendezvous with Rama) he was also a masterful exponent of science fact. Written at a time when humans were still preparing to land on the Moon, this book opened the door to the vistas of outer space for this budding author. A man generations ahead of his time, Clarke would have been as disappointed as any at our slow rate of progress in space exploration since the Apollo Moon landings. An uplifting view of our technological future, some of it still to come, from a true visionary.

Who am I?

I am an author, editor, lecturer, and sometime broadcaster on astronomy and space. My early interest in the possibilities of extraterrestrial life and interstellar communication led me to write my first books, Worlds Beyond (1975) and Messages from the Stars (1978). This interest also led me to investigate UFO sightings, but I soon realized that their explanation lies in human misperception and not ETs. My investigation and explanation of the famous Rendlesham Forest UFO case of December 1980, widely regarded as one of the top-ten cases worldwide and sometimes known as Britain's Roswell, can be found hereIn conjunction with the outstanding Dutch celestial cartographer Wil Tirion, I have produced two standard observing guides for amateur astronomers. 


I wrote...

Star Tales

By Ian Ridpath,

Book cover of Star Tales

What is my book about?

The history and mythology of the constellations from ancient Greek times to the present. The 48 constellations listed by Ptolemy in the second century AD survived unchanged until the end of the 16th century, when Dutch explorers added 12 new constellations in the southern sky that was below the horizon from Greece. Later astronomers added more constellations to fill in the gaps so that we have ended up with 88 constellations filling the sky from pole to pole.

Star Tales recounts the Greek and Roman myths associated with the 48 original constellations, and tells the story of how the others were added, along with notes on some proposed constellations that fell by the wayside for various reasons. 

Apollo 13 Owners' Workshop Manual

By David Baker,

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

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.


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. 

Apollo

By David West Reynolds,

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

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. 


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. 

Margaret and the Moon

By Dean Robbins, Lucy Knisley (illustrator),

Book cover of Margaret and the Moon

Margaret and the Moon tells the story of Margaret Hamilton, who wrote the computer code that was key to the US first landing on the moon. The story is full of suspense. Margaret—not the astronauts—is the real hero of the story. But what is best about this book is that it is bursting with curiosity. Margaret wonders, Why are there only DADDY Longlegs? Why aren’t more girls scientists? How big is the moon? And with each of her questions, readers themselves became more and more curious! Isn’t that fabulous?!


Who am I?

I am an award-winning children’s book author who writes stories about unexpected friends, women who did the impossible, people who are (almost) forgotten & ideas that seem too complicated until I find the right way to tell them.


I wrote...

The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe

By Sandra Nickel, Aimée Sicuro (illustrator),

Book cover of The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe

What is my book about?

The Stuff Between the Stars tells the story of astronomer Vera Rubin, who discovered dark matter. She fell in love with stars when she was a girl. But when the male astronomers of her day shut her out, she decided to study something none of them were interested in. By doing this, she surpassed them all, revolutionizing modern astronomy. She proved that the space between the stars—all that dark we see at night—isn’t empty. It’s filled with stuff. And that stuff holds our universe together.

Digital Apollo

By David A. Mindell,

Book cover of Digital Apollo: Human and Machine in Spaceflight

The book interweaves the human story of risk and decision-making and the technological account of successes and failures of onboard computing in the Apollo program. It makes a fascinating comparison with the parallel story of techno-human systems in the Soviet space program explored in my book. While Soviet cosmonauts routinely served as a backup for automatics, American astronauts successfully fought to seize control of their missions from the computer and to perform manually each of the lunar landings.


Who am I?

My interest in space history began with stamp collecting and continued much later with visits to Russian archives, Star City, and aerospace companies, and interviews with cosmonauts and space engineers, who often told their personal stories for the first time. As a historian of science and technology teaching at MIT, I was especially interested in cases where technology and society intertwined: cosmonauts and engineers lobbied politicians with competing agendas, personal rivalries tore apart ambitious projects, and pervasive secrecy perpetuated public myths and private counter-myths. My digging into tensions and arguments that shaped the Soviet space program resulted in two books, Soviet Space Mythologies and Voices of the Soviet Space Program.


I wrote...

Soviet Space Mythologies: Public Images, Private Memories, and the Making of a Cultural Identity (Russian and East European Studies)

By Slava Gerovitch,

Book cover of Soviet Space Mythologies: Public Images, Private Memories, and the Making of a Cultural Identity (Russian and East European Studies)

What is my book about?

Soviet propaganda, which widely mythologized the heroism of cosmonauts and the skill of engineers, faced a contradiction: were Soviet cosmonauts heroic pilots steering their craft through the dangers of space, or were they mere passengers riding safely aboard perfect automated machines? Under the technical issue of division of function between human and machine this book uncovers a social drama of rivalry of cosmonauts and engineers. Not only were the cosmonauts forced to fit into the automated control system of their spacecraft, but they also had to follow the preset agenda of the state propaganda machine, publicly representing an idealized human face of the communist regime. Pushing back, the cosmonauts tried to grasp control over their space missions, as well as over their public role.

Reaching for the Moon

By Buzz Aldrin, Wendell Minor (illustrator),

Book cover of Reaching for the Moon

If there’s any book that deserves the title inspirational, it’s surely this children’s book narrated by astronaut Buzz Aldrin. Here he recounts his life story, beginning with his childhood and how he acquired the name Buzz⎯such a cute story! This is followed by the significant events that led him to become an astronaut, then eventually to his epic moon landing. Buzz believed in education, discipline and he felt strongly that any goal was possible. He certainly lived up to those ideals! On July 20, 1969, after blasting off in the Apollo 11, he and Neil Armstrong became the first people ever to set foot on the moon. An incredible achievement! Children will love Wendell Minor’s gorgeous paintings and enjoy reading about the personal story of a great American hero.


Who am I?

I’m a science fiction and fantasy children’s book author, who loves everything about space and science fiction. I’ve been fascinated by space ever since I was little; mesmerized by clips of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking on the moon. As a teenager, War of the Worlds by H.G Wells was my favorite book! My daughter’s complete lack of interest in space inspired me to write a space adventure series. How could I make space entertaining? When it comes to children, I’m a big fan of mixing space facts with a dollop of space fiction, so I hope you will enjoy the collection of books on this list!


I wrote...

Amelia, the Merballs and the Emerald Cannon: Book Three: Amelia's Amazing Space Adventures

By Evonne Blanchard,

Book cover of Amelia, the Merballs and the Emerald Cannon: Book Three: Amelia's Amazing Space Adventures

What is my book about?

One winter’s day I showed my daughter a map of the solar system. Her eyes glazed over… How could I make this fun for her? Hmmm. An alien from Pluto called Uglesnoo. Now, what would Uglesnoo be doing on Earth? He’s here on a quest to save his sister! And this quest will take him and Amelia to the moon, sun, and all the planets in the solar system! Amelia, the Merballs, and the Emerald Cannon is the third book in Amelia’s Amazing Space Adventures. In this crazy adventure, Amelia and Uglesnoo must travel to Mercury to pick up flying shoes. The Merballs of Mercury are friendly until an asteroid hits the planet.  Amelia and Uglesnoo find themselves in trouble once again!

How Apollo Flew to the Moon

By W. David Woods,

Book cover of How Apollo Flew to the Moon

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.


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. 

Operation Moonglow

By Teasel Muir-Harmony,

Book cover of Operation Moonglow: A Political History of Project Apollo

When NASA’s manned spaceflight program began, engineers focused on technology to launch men, sustain them in orbit, and eventually take them to the Moon and back. But U.S. Presidents approved the program to improve America’s image, not for scientific purposes. They wanted to counter the successive shocks of the USSR’s first artificial satellite and first person in space. This wasn’t about bragging rights, but to deter emerging nations from choosing communism over democracy. NASA launches welcomed media and US astronauts were sent abroad, guided by the State Department. They gave unscripted speeches, so listeners could relate to them as regular folks. After John Glenn orbited Earth, his Friendship 7 capsule went on tour, drawing 4 million visitors in Bombay alone. Operation Moonglow explains the unspoken politics that drove early NASA.


Who am I?

I’ve studied space for 60+ years, including spotting Sputnik from atop 30 Rock for Operation Moonwatch; monitoring an exploding star for a PhD at University of Michigan, leading the Remotely Controlled Telescope project at Kitt Peak National Observatory, hunting pulsars from Arizona and Chile, and helping develop scientific instruments for the Hubble Space Telescope. I worked for 5 years at Kitt Peak and 35 years for NASA. As Press Officer (now retired) of the American Astronomical Society, I organized press conferences on many notable cosmic discoveries. Minor Planet 9768 was named Stephenmaran for me, but I haven’t seen it yet. What I have spotted are five exceptional books on space.  Enjoy!


I wrote...

Astronomy for Dummies

By Stephen P. Maran,

Book cover of Astronomy for Dummies

What is my book about?

Do you know the difference between a red giant and a white dwarf? From asteroids to black holes, this easy-to-understand guide takes you on a grand tour of the universe. Featuring updated star maps, charts, and an insert with gorgeous full-color photographs, Astronomy For Dummies provides an easy-to-follow introduction to the night sky. Plus, this new edition also gives you the latest theories, explanations, and insights into the basic workings of the universe.

A Man on the Moon

By Andrew Chaikin,

Book cover of A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts

Between 1968 and 1972, 24 Apollo astronauts flew to the moon and 12 of them landed to first explore its surface. By the late eighties when it seemed nobody cared about the Apollo era missions, Andy had the vision, persistence, and respect for history to research, track down, and by 1994, interview each of those astronauts in their own words. Knowing Andy, it is understandable why these essentially forgotten first explorers to another celestial body, including engineers and scientists, opened up and provided remarkable unscripted accounts. It is a transcendent portrait of the Apollo era that continues to inspire the imagination. Including Tom Hanks (Apollo 13) who had used the book as an essential guide toward the production of HBO’s From the Earth to the Moon


Who am I?

I’ve followed the history of space exploration since I was a kid! Although I spent decades photographing assignments in exotic international locations and co-authored visually driven books on astronomical phenomena, my dream was to photograph in NASA’s restricted space exploration work cultures. Never giving up, I achieved unprecedented access into the shuttle mission that saved the Hubble Space Telescope and, for more than a decade, with the New Horizons team that first explored the Pluto system. I’ve been published in media like Smithsonian, Nat Geo, WIRED, New Scientist, and NPR. Honored that my photographs of astronaut space tools are in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum.   


I wrote...

Infinite Worlds: The People and Places of Space Exploration

By Michael Soluri,

Book cover of Infinite Worlds: The People and Places of Space Exploration

What is my book about?

Infinite Worlds - the People and Places of Space Exploration is a visually driven, beautifully designed, and printed coffee table book that reveals the sublime art of human and robotic space exploration. With extraordinary access over several years into the restricted, behind-the-scenes work cultures of 3 NASA Spaceflight Centers, Michael photographically documented the craft and humanity that frames the team effort behind the historic last shuttle mission that essentially saved the Hubble Space Telescope. In addition, his observations are woven between 18 insightful first-person essays by some of the NASA astronaut crew, engineers, shuttle techs, and scientists who worked on this historic mission. Mercury astronaut John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth, wrote the introduction.

Or, view all 15 books about the Apollo program

New book lists related to the Apollo program

All book lists related to the Apollo program

Bookshelves related to the Apollo program