The best outer space books

6 authors have picked their favorite books about outer space and why they recommend each book.

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Mining the Sky

By John S. Lewis,

Book cover of Mining the Sky: Untold Riches From the Asteroids, Comets and Planets

This book is about the positive side of Near-Earth Objects – that is, they can benefit mankind as well as threaten it. Lewis explains how asteroids are chock full of valuable minerals – iron, nickel, platinum, iridium, and so on – that are either rare or difficult and messy to extract on Earth. Lewis persuasively argues that it’s not just possible but almost inevitable that Earthlings will eventually start extracting those space rock riches -- not so much to bring them back to Earth but to use them for manufacturing industries in space, thus sparing our planet from much of the pollution that threatens our world. It’s not just futuristic day-dreaming; already private companies are spending big money to develop space-mining technologies. The bottom line of this fascinating book is that there’s gold in them thar hills – or rather, in them thar far reaches of space. And sooner than…


Who am I?

In 2016 I was enjoying an early morning cup of coffee on my back porch in Arizona when an eerie red light lit up the dark sky, followed seconds later by a tremendous distant explosion that rattled my cup and set my dogs howling. As a soldier and journalist, I had seen all kinds of human and natural catastrophes and mayhem, but never anything like this. Later I was astonished to learn that this event, which was seen as far away as Texas, was caused by a small asteroid the size of a refrigerator that had exploded in the atmosphere with the energy equivalent of a million pounds of TNT. I wanted to find out more – and I did.


I wrote...

Fire in the Sky: Cosmic Collisions, Killer Asteroids, and the Race to Defend Earth

By Gordon L. Dillow,

Book cover of Fire in the Sky: Cosmic Collisions, Killer Asteroids, and the Race to Defend Earth

What is my book about?

From its earliest formation our planet has been routinely bombarded by space rocks large and small. In fact, collisions between small asteroids and Earth are a daily occurrence. Fortunately, most of the small ones burn up in the atmosphere, and the big ones don’t come around very often. But the question isn’t if another large asteroid or comet will strike the Earth with catastrophic consequences -- the only question is when. It could be a thousand years from now, or it could be next Tuesday. Fire in the Sky takes an accessible and sometimes light-hearted look at the history of these space invaders -- including the six-mile wide asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago -- as well as the ongoing efforts to identify, and if possible deflect, large asteroids that may threaten our planet in the future.

Life With Hubble

By David S. Leckrone,

Book cover of Life With Hubble: An Insider's View of the World’s Most Famous Telescope

Do you recall when the Hubble Space Telescope was launched with supposedly the world’s most perfect mirror, but proved out of focus, a billion-dollar “techno-turkey?” Despite widespread doubts (including mine), it was repaired in space and became arguably the most powerful telescope ever, making extraordinary discoveries about the birth of stars, the age of the universe, what happens when comets smash into Jupiter, and much more. Behind the scenes there were engineering quandaries, inter-agency disputes, and MacGyvering repairs by astronauts. Dave Leckrone, the ultimate insider who worked on Hubble for 33 years, ending as its top Project Scientist, knows what really happened, the “story behind the story,” aided by what must be a photographic memory, incessant notetaking, and one guesses, closely-held Hubble X-files. He tells all of it here.


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.

This New Ocean

By William E. Burrows,

Book cover of This New Ocean: The Story of the First Space Age

The current era of exploration began after World War II, announced by the International Geophysical Year. With Antarctica as a pivot, exploration moved down to the world’s ocean depths and out to interplanetary space. Space got the most attention – it was visible and had a literature that ice and abyss couldn’t match.

With vigor, clarity, and a lively tempo, This New Ocean narrates the space race in both its manned and robotic expressions, its American and Soviet versions, its technology, and its politics. Burrows is an enthusiast, but not an ideologue or a blinkered astrofuturist. A good survey and introduction, This New Ocean makes a lively read.


Who am I?

My 15 seasons at Grand Canyon inspired me to understand its story of revelation, which led to a fascination with the history of exploration overall.  This has resulted in a series of books about explorers, places explored, and a conceptual scaffolding by which to understand it all: a geologist of the American West (Grove Karl Gilbert); Antarctica (The Ice); revisiting the Rim with better conceptual gear, How the Canyon Became Grand; and using its mission as a narrative spine, Voyager: Exploration, Space, and Third Great Age of DiscoveryThe grand sweep deserved a grand summary, so I’ve ended with The Great Ages of Discovery.


I wrote...

The Great Ages of Discovery: How Western Civilization Learned about a Wider World

By Stephen J. Pyne,

Book cover of The Great Ages of Discovery: How Western Civilization Learned about a Wider World

What is my book about?

Exploration by Western civilization - a kind of quest narrative – has proceeded in three great waves, each with its crest and a trough. Each had a geography of special interest, an alignment with larger cultural movements, a critical geopolitical rivalry, and a grand gesture that captured what the age most exemplifies.

The Great Ages narrates this larger arc, moving from the Mediterranean and Baltic Seas to the world ocean, to the crossing of all the Earth’s continents, and finally, after World War II, pivoting from Antarctica, probing into the deep oceans and interplanetary space. More than a compilation of adventure stories, Great Ages uses the tradition of exploration to discover better the character of its sustaining civilization.

Space Chronicles

By Neil Degrasse Tyson,

Book cover of Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier

During his speech at the World Government Summit 2018 in Dubai, Neil deGrasse Tyson confessed that his original title for the book Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier was Failure to Launch: The Dreams and Delusions of Space Enthusiasts. The publisher rejected this title. I would have purchased this book either way, but the original title is on the mark. Tyson is one of my greatest sources of inspiration because he is so clear-eyed about practical challenges in space travel: from the physical and biological to the political and philosophical. Space Chronicles is one of many fine entry points into his brilliant mind.


Who am I?

I am an author and freelance health and science writer with expertise is in health, nutrition, medicine, environmental sciences, physics, and astronomy. I try to address all these topics with healthy skepticism, realism, and a sense of humanity and humor. I am the author of three books: Spacefarers (2020), Food At Work (2005), and Bad Medicine (2003). I also have written more than 500 newspaper, magazine, and web articles for periodicals such as The Washington Post and Smithsonian Magazine. My upcoming book concerns the engineering of the NASA James Webb Space Telescope (MIT Press, 2022).


I wrote...

Spacefarers: How Humans Will Settle the Moon, Mars, and Beyond

By Christopher Wanjek,

Book cover of Spacefarers: How Humans Will Settle the Moon, Mars, and Beyond

What is my book about?

More than 50 years after the Apollo 11 moon landing, humans still have not settled on the Moon, let alone done anything remotely interesting in low-earth orbit aside from raising ants on the International Space Station and doing zero-gravity flips for school children. Why? Because space activities are difficult, expensive, and nearly pointless. Yet this is getting easier and cheaper. The book Spacefarers explains the profound challenges and practical limitations of space habitation as we search for a solid reason not merely to visit space but to live on the Moon, Mars, and beyond. A must-read before you start your migration to the stars.

Mission to Mars

By Buzz Aldrin, Leonard David,

Book cover of Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration

Buzz Aldrin, best known for having been one of the first two astronauts to walk on the moon, has been active throughout the time since then in promoting an expanded space program. In this book he goes into detail—but not too much detail for non-technical readers—about how space activity can help to preserve Earth, in addition to describing various proposals for returning to the moon and reaching Mars, He believes explorers should go there to stay permanently and build a base rather than return to Earth between trips. The book, published in 2013, was overoptimistic in suggesting that as early as 2020 selected astronauts could be asked to commit to spending the rest of their lives on Mars, but I’m sure that when opportunity arises there will be volunteers.

Who am I?

As a long-term advocate of space colonization I’ve always been drawn to Mars, not by adventure stories but by the idea that ordinary people may someday live there. So this was the theme of my first novel. I wrote it before we had gone to the moon, though it wasn't published until 1970, after my better-known book Enchantress from the Stars. When in 2006 I revised it for republication, little about Mars needed changing; mainly I removed outdated sexist assumptions and wording. Yet the book still hasn’t reached its intended audience because though meant for girls who aren’t already space enthusiasts, its publishers persisted in labeling it science fiction rather than Young Adult romance.


I wrote...

Journey Between Worlds

By Sylvia Engdahl,

Book cover of Journey Between Worlds

What is my book about?

Melinda Ashley has a plan for her life, and a trip to Mars isn't part of it. When she receives a spaceliner ticket as a high school graduation gift from her dad, she is dismayed but reluctantly agrees to go with him. When aboard the ship she meets Alex Preston, a second-generation Martian colonist returning from Earth who is looking forward to the role he expects to play in the settlement's future, she is more and more drawn to him and, while on Mars, to his family. Torn between what she has always wanted and upsetting new feelings, she wonders if she can ever again be content. It takes tragedy and a terrifying experience to make her aware of what really matters to her.

The Masque Of Manana

By Robert Sheckley,

Book cover of The Masque Of Manana

Robert Sheckley was a major influence on me as he mixed SF and humor, sometimes broadly and sometimes darkly. This “best of” collection – on which I got to offer my suggestions as to what should be included – really is the cream of the crop. I will always be grateful that I had the chance to meet him while he was still with us… and that before I could say a word, he thanked me for a blurb I did on another collection of his works. It was the perfect fanboy moment.


Who am I?

While doing a college humor column I was hoping to be the next Art Buchwald, but instead ended up first as a lawyer, then a film critic and college professor. When I finally got around to writing fiction, the blending of science fiction and comedy was a natural fit (with occasional forays into horror and fantasy). I’ve done four novels and a couple of dozen published stories to date and when readers tell me they’ve enjoyed them I answer, “If it made you laugh, I did my job.” When I came up with the mashup title of “Father of the Bride of Frankenstein” I said, “I have to write this.”


I wrote...

Father of the Bride of Frankenstein

By Daniel M. Kimmel,

Book cover of Father of the Bride of Frankenstein

What is my book about?

Phil Levin knew his daughter Samantha would marry someday. He wasn’t even surprised that it was another graduate student in her bioethics program. The surprise was it was Frank, a reanimated corpse who not only wants to grapple with the issues his creation raises, but also wants to convert and make a Jewish home with her… which is more than Phil and his wife ever did.

This sets Phil off on a journey that will include wedding planning, media intrusiveness, Jewish practice, a legal battle over whether Frank even has a right to exist, and whether “The Munsters” theme is appropriate for the reception.

Asteroid Hunters

By Carrie Nugent,

Book cover of Asteroid Hunters

This book is about asteroid hunters, written by an asteroid hunter – and she clearly loves her work. Nugent is an assistant professor of computational physics and planetary science at Olin College and worked on NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE), which discovered hundreds of Potential Hazardous Objects – asteroids and comets – that could someday threaten Earth. You don’t have to be a scientist to enjoy this book. Nugent patiently walks us through the process of finding and tracking potentially dangerous space rocks with skill and passion for her subject.


Who am I?

In 2016 I was enjoying an early morning cup of coffee on my back porch in Arizona when an eerie red light lit up the dark sky, followed seconds later by a tremendous distant explosion that rattled my cup and set my dogs howling. As a soldier and journalist, I had seen all kinds of human and natural catastrophes and mayhem, but never anything like this. Later I was astonished to learn that this event, which was seen as far away as Texas, was caused by a small asteroid the size of a refrigerator that had exploded in the atmosphere with the energy equivalent of a million pounds of TNT. I wanted to find out more – and I did.


I wrote...

Fire in the Sky: Cosmic Collisions, Killer Asteroids, and the Race to Defend Earth

By Gordon L. Dillow,

Book cover of Fire in the Sky: Cosmic Collisions, Killer Asteroids, and the Race to Defend Earth

What is my book about?

From its earliest formation our planet has been routinely bombarded by space rocks large and small. In fact, collisions between small asteroids and Earth are a daily occurrence. Fortunately, most of the small ones burn up in the atmosphere, and the big ones don’t come around very often. But the question isn’t if another large asteroid or comet will strike the Earth with catastrophic consequences -- the only question is when. It could be a thousand years from now, or it could be next Tuesday. Fire in the Sky takes an accessible and sometimes light-hearted look at the history of these space invaders -- including the six-mile wide asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago -- as well as the ongoing efforts to identify, and if possible deflect, large asteroids that may threaten our planet in the future.

Space Encyclopedia

By David A. Aguilar,

Book cover of Space Encyclopedia: A Tour of Our Solar System and Beyond

Of all the non-fiction books about space for older children, this was the one I chose to share with my son. It felt special enough to give him as a birthday gift.

I think it’s beautifully illustrated in a highly believable but dramatic way, as well as including some amazing photographic images. It’s broken down into short, manageable chapters, perfect for one planet or theme to either read alone or to share at bedtime.


Who am I?

I usually enjoy painting pictures for storybooks about nature I know, so it was a treat to depict an imaginary place that I’ve never actually seen! I was so inspired to illustrate Mary’s story about the moon, as I could focus on creating an other-worldly atmosphere, adding to the drama that could have happened anywhere. The story focuses on Molly and her family moving to the moon and includes scientific facts about how gravity would impact their everyday life. I used Mary’s knowledge as reference to underpin the imaginative side of my process. Painting the inside of a moon module enabled me to use textures, colours, and lighting in such a fun, expressive way!


I illustrated...

Molly on the Moon

By Mary Robinette Kowal, Diana Mayo (illustrator),

Book cover of Molly on the Moon

What is my book about?

Award-winning science fiction author Mary Robinette Kowal consulted with a NASA astronaut to craft her first picture book story, accurately describing how living on the moon differs from life on Earth. Beautifully illustrated by Diana Mayo, Molly on the Moon is the tale of two siblings adjusting to their new home. Inspiring and imaginative, Molly on the Moon also includes fascinating facts about the moon’s environment, revealing how the differences in gravity, temperature, and time would affect our lives.

Illustrator Diana Mayo’s art is an intriguing study in contrasts. She envisions the moon as a world that seems both strange and familiar, vast but confined, cozy yet intensely isolated. The deep blue colour palette of her mixed media images feels appropriately lunar and a little mysterious.” – Bookpage.com

Sailing Bright Eternity

By Gregory Benford,

Book cover of Sailing Bright Eternity

The first sci-fi I ever read, plucked from a dusty shelf on a mission compound in Niger. The physics explanations were beyond me, and honestly still are, but the astronomical imagery rewired my nine-year-old brain. This is a book (and series) that melds the rigor of hard SF with the scope and imagination of the best space opera, following the remnants of humanity as they flee inscrutable, implacable AI monstrosities. It makes the universe feel visceral and terrifyingly beautiful, and makes the reader feel like an ant.


Who am I?

I’ve been writing professionally for an entire decade now, and for most of that time sci-fi has been my bread and butter. I love the genre’s varied aesthetics, and its tightrope of creativity and believability. The sci-fi books I love most of all are, for whatever reason, the ones that make me think deep, none-too-happy thoughts. Best is subjective, but these are five of my very favorites.


I wrote...

Ymir

By Rich Larson,

Book cover of Ymir

What is my book about?

If we were in an elevator, I’d tell you Ymir is about a despised prodigal who returns to his icy homeworld to break a mining strike and hunt down an ancient alien war machine. Over drinks, I’d tell you it’s also about fraternal rivalry and cyclical self-destruction.

Here, I’ll tell you that Ymir was originally conceived as a grimy, posthuman retelling of Beowulf, but along the way it absorbed everything else I like, from Émile Zola and Chuck Palahniuk to Galidor Quest and Bojack Horseman. It’s the most brutally personal thing I’ve ever written, and simultaneously an assemblage of all the cheap writing tricks I’ve learned over the past decade of writing fiction. It’s a trip. I hope you take it.

Phule's Company

By Robert Asprin,

Book cover of Phule's Company

Willard J. Phule, the rich son of a millionaire arms manufacturer, reforms a group of misfits in the Space Legion, a fictional organization similar to the French Foreign Legion, into an “elite fighting force.” What I love about this book is the mix of humor and common sense. I’m a big fan of out-of-the-box thinking in tactical situations, and Phule’s Company uses it in spades.


Who am I?

I am a writer of science fiction and fantasy, and a humorist. My husband and I fell in love over Star Trek and puns, and we both share a deep abiding hatred of people acting stupidly to further a plot. I read to escape, so I’m looking for laughs but also compelling characters who live their stories rather than act out the author’s wishes. I will toss a book as soon as it insults my intelligence or bores me. Thus, when I write, I let the characters run the show—and they never fail me.


I wrote...

Space Traipse: Hold My Beer, Season 1

By Karina Fabian,

Book cover of Space Traipse: Hold My Beer, Season 1

What is my book about?

If you love Star Trek and parodies... If the Orville and Galaxy Quest give you as much joy as Wrath of Khan... Then this is the book for you. Join the crew of the HMB Impulsive as we reverse the polarity on cliches, set phasers to Pun, and boldly go where no parody has gone before.

In Book 1 of this series, the Impulsive’s crew plays matchmaker to warring worlds, rescues the Ship’s Sexy from an environmentally paranoid planet, saves an alien ship by reversing its polarity, and nearly gets themselves killed on an amusement planet in a parody of ST: TOS “Shore Leave.” Plus, we follow a janitorial robot for a day.

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