The most recommended Soviet space program books

Who picked these books? Meet our 5 experts.

5 authors created a book list connected to the Soviet space program, and here are their favorite Soviet space program books.
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Korolev

By James Harford,

Book cover of Korolev: How One Man Masterminded the Soviet Drive to Beat America to the Moon

Nick Abadzis Author Of Laika

From the list on the Soviet space program.

Who am I?

I wrote and drew a book about the Russian dog called Laika, the first living being to go into orbit around the planet Earth. Part of the conception of this book was that I wanted to create a graphic novel that almost anyone could read - a comic for people who might not usually read comics. It had to be accessible - you didn’t have to be steeped in comics lore, geek culture or space history to find your way into it. I've been creating books, magazines, comics, and stories for both adults and children for more than thirty-five years, with work published all over the world. 

Nick's book list on the Soviet space program

Why did Nick love this book?

Korolev is one of the true architects of the 20th century and the technologically advanced world we live in today, yet most people in the West don’t have any idea who he is. A designer and engineer in the Soviet hierarchy and survivor of Stalin’s purges, he was a remarkable individual who united various small Soviet design bureaus to create the illusion of military-industrial organization that was equal and opposite in might to that of the USA. That was for the purposes of his masters; Korolev really did just want to put a Russian on the Moon. Harford’s book gives a sense of the visionary that lurked just beneath the surface of the canny political operator who changed history. The Russians led the world into space, but it was Korolev who led the Russians there.

By James Harford,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

How One Man Masterminded the Soviet Drive Beat America to the Moon. "Fascinating ...packed with technical and historical detail for the space expert and enthusiast alike ...Great stuff!"-New Scientist "In this exceptional book, James Harford pieces together a most compelling and well-written tale...Must reading."-Space News. "Through masterful research and an engaging narrative style, James Harford gives the world its first in-depth look at the man who should rightly be called the father of the Soviet space program."-Norman R. Augustine, CEO, Lockheed Martin. "In Korolev, James Harford has written a masterly biography of this enigmatic 'Chief Designer' whose role the Soviets…


Animals in Space

By Colin Burgess, Chris Dubbs,

Book cover of Animals in Space: From Research Rockets to the Space Shuttle

Nick Abadzis Author Of Laika

From the list on the Soviet space program.

Who am I?

I wrote and drew a book about the Russian dog called Laika, the first living being to go into orbit around the planet Earth. Part of the conception of this book was that I wanted to create a graphic novel that almost anyone could read - a comic for people who might not usually read comics. It had to be accessible - you didn’t have to be steeped in comics lore, geek culture or space history to find your way into it. I've been creating books, magazines, comics, and stories for both adults and children for more than thirty-five years, with work published all over the world. 

Nick's book list on the Soviet space program

Why did Nick love this book?

This book came out right after I completed Laika, but I wish I’d been able to use it in my research (although Dubbs’ earlier book, Space Dogs: Pioneers in Space Travel was extremely useful).

If Siddiqi’s book focuses more on the human journey behind the Soviet space program, this is a parallel account of some other unwitting (and undersung) pioneers: the experimental animals who were sent ahead of humankind. We share this world with animals and they were dispatched on our behalf to test the deep waters of the heavens also. It was thought - correctly - that if they could survive, so could we. Laika may very well be the most famous of these pathfinders (at least beyond Russia), but there were many more. This book is a history of all those other animal astronauts launched into space both prior to Laika and aboard more recent missions.

By Colin Burgess, Chris Dubbs,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This book is as a detailed, but highly readable and balanced account of the history of animal space flights carried out by all nations, but principally the United States and the Soviet Union. It explores the ways in which animal high-altitude and space flight research impacted on space flight biomedicine and technology, and how the results - both successful and disappointing - allowed human beings to then undertake that same hazardous journey with far greater understanding and confidence. This complete and authoritative book will undoubtedly become the ultimate authority on animal space flights.


Omon Ra

By Victor Pelevin, Andrew Bromfield,

Book cover of Omon Ra

Daniel Treisman Author Of The Return: Russia's Journey from Gorbachev to Medvedev

From the list on the Soviet Union under Brezhnev.

Who am I?

Daniel Treisman is an expert on post-Soviet Russia, whose articles have appeared in Foreign Affairs, the New York Times, and CNN.com, among other publications. A professor of political science at the University of California, Los Angeles, he is the founder of the Russia Political Insight project, an international collaboration to analyze Kremlin decision-making. He is the author of The Return: Russia’s Journey from Gorbachev to Medvedev and editor of The New Autocracy: Information, Politics, and Policy in Putin’s Russia.  

Daniel's book list on the Soviet Union under Brezhnev

Why did Daniel love this book?

Pelevin exploded onto the Russian literary scene in the 1990s, propelled by a postmodern sensibility and satirical flair. In his masterpiece, Omon Ra, the Soviet space program becomes a metaphor for all the lies and cant of post-War communism. The Politburo cannot admit it trails the US in rocket technology. So it trains naïve recruits to secretly pilot “unmanned” one-way space missions. In fact, it’s even stranger than that, but no spoilers here. Hilarious satire, while at the same time weirdly true to life. A tale of pimply youths and slogans, empty sacrifices, moon landings, and port wine guzzled in garages.

By Victor Pelevin, Andrew Bromfield,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Victor Pelevin's novel Omon Ra has been widely praised for its poetry and its wickedness, a novel in line with the great works of Gogol and Bulgakov: "full of the ridiculous and the sublime," says The Observer [London]. Omon is chosen to be trained in the Soviet space program the fulfillment of his lifelong dream. However, he enrolls only to encounter the terrifying absurdity of Soviet protocol and its backward technology: a bicycle-powered moonwalker; the outrageous Colonel Urgachin ("a kind of Sovier Dr. Strangelove"-The New York Times); and a one-way assignment to the moon. The New Yorker proclaimed: "Omon's adventure…


Irina

By Keisuke Makino, KAREI (illustrator),

Book cover of Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut

David Lee Summers Author Of Vampires of the Scarlet Order

From the list on vampires you want to root for.

Who am I?

I first started reading vampire stories when I worked at Kitt Peak National Observatory in the 1990s. One of my co-workers suggested that we were the vampires of the mountain because we were only seen between sunset and sunrise. She encouraged me to read Anne Rice, whose work gave me a taste for heroic vampires. A while later, I moved to Las Cruces, New Mexico, known as the City of Crosses. Another friend suggested I write a story asking what a vampire would make of such a thing. That became an early chapter in Vampires of the Scarlet Order.

David's book list on vampires you want to root for

Why did David love this book?

In this Japanese light novel, vampires are an oppressed people living in a country adjoining a Soviet Union-like country, the Republic of Zirnitra. In this world, almost all of the stories you've heard about vampires being evil and hunting humans are Zirnitran propaganda, but vampires do drink blood and are sensitive to sunlight. Irina is a young vampire woman who volunteers to be a test subject for the Zirnitran space program so she can get closer to the moon, which she loves. The story is based on the real Soviet space program of the 1960s and I rooted for Irina as she overcame her own fears and Zirnitran oppression to fly in orbit and see her beloved moon up close before any human went into orbit.

By Keisuke Makino, KAREI (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A fierce space race between two global superpowers gives rise to the Nosferatu Project, a top-secret plan to train up some unusual cosmonauts - vampires! When Lev Leps, a human soldier, is ordered to supervise vampire test subject Irina Luminesk, the unlikely pair bonds over their shared dream of reaching the stars. Together, can the human and vampire duo rise above the chaos and corruption down on Earth and blast off into the final frontier?


Space Race

By Deborah Cadbury,

Book cover of Space Race: The Epic Battle Between America and the Soviet Union for Dominion of Space

Nick Abadzis Author Of Laika

From the list on the Soviet space program.

Who am I?

I wrote and drew a book about the Russian dog called Laika, the first living being to go into orbit around the planet Earth. Part of the conception of this book was that I wanted to create a graphic novel that almost anyone could read - a comic for people who might not usually read comics. It had to be accessible - you didn’t have to be steeped in comics lore, geek culture or space history to find your way into it. I've been creating books, magazines, comics, and stories for both adults and children for more than thirty-five years, with work published all over the world. 

Nick's book list on the Soviet space program

Why did Nick love this book?

Space Race was originally a companion book to a BBC docudrama from the mid-2000s and as such shares all the climactic page-turning paciness you’d expect from such an account. While it doesn’t share the deep detail of some of the books mentioned above, it’s an illuminating and highly enjoyable overview of the historical events that culminated in the Americans landing on the Moon in Apollo 11 in 1969.

By Deborah Cadbury,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

One of the most exhilarating true adventures in history, the race into space was marked by courage, duplicity, political paranoia, astonishing technological feats, and unbelievable triumphs in the face of overwhelming adversity. It is the story of an unparalleled rivalry between superpowers and of the two remarkable men at the center of the conflict. On the American side was Wernher von Braun, the camera-friendly former Nazi scientist, who was granted hero status and almost unlimited resources by a government panicked at the thought of the Cold War enemy taking the lead. The Soviet program was headed by Sergei Korolev, a…


Full Moon

By Michael Light, Andrew Chaikin,

Book cover of Full Moon

Michael Soluri Author Of Infinite Worlds: The People and Places of Space Exploration

From the list on space exploration, astronauts, the moon, and beyond.

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.   

Michael's book list on space exploration, astronauts, the moon, and beyond

Why did Michael love this book?

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.

By Michael Light, Andrew Chaikin,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Full Moon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The most thrilling of all journeys--the missions of the Apollo astronauts to the surface of the Moon and back--yielded 32,000 extraordinarily beautiful photographs, the record of a unique human achievement. Until recently, only a handful of these photographs had been released for publication; but now, for the first time, NASA has allowed a selection of the master negatives and transparencies to be scanned electronically, rendering the sharpest images of space that we have ever seen. Michael Light has woven 129 of these stunningly clear images into a single composite voyage, a narrative of breathtaking immediacy and authenticity that begins with…


Challenge to Apollo

By Nasa History Office, Asif A. Siddiqi,

Book cover of Challenge to Apollo: The Soviet Union and the Space Race, 1945-1974

Nick Abadzis Author Of Laika

From the list on the Soviet space program.

Who am I?

I wrote and drew a book about the Russian dog called Laika, the first living being to go into orbit around the planet Earth. Part of the conception of this book was that I wanted to create a graphic novel that almost anyone could read - a comic for people who might not usually read comics. It had to be accessible - you didn’t have to be steeped in comics lore, geek culture or space history to find your way into it. I've been creating books, magazines, comics, and stories for both adults and children for more than thirty-five years, with work published all over the world. 

Nick's book list on the Soviet space program

Why did Nick love this book?

This really is the bible for anyone seeking to know about the USSR’s Space Program in detail. Siddiqi’s research is forensic and utterly exhaustive and includes all manner of original Russian language sources as well as interviews with many a Soviet space veteran and scholar. He tells the story of the nascent Soviet space effort and its development into a vast project that shaped the world; it includes the story of every major character and player involved. It’s absolutely essential reading for anyone interested in the other team that played in the Space Race.

By Nasa History Office, Asif A. Siddiqi,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Taking advantage of the Soviet archives, which were opened in the 1990s, Siddiqi has written a groundbreaking work that examines why the Soviet Union fell behind in the space race of the 1960s after changing the course of human history with the first artificial satellite launch, Sputnik, in 1957.


Astronauts

By Jim Ottaviani, Maris Wicks (illustrator),

Book cover of Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier

David Hitt Author Of Homesteading Space: The Skylab Story

From the list on 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.

David's book list on for a graphic novel exploration of space

Why did David love 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.

By Jim Ottaviani, Maris Wicks (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

America may have put the first man on the moon, but it was the Soviet space program that made Valentina Tereshkova the first woman in space. Meanwhile, in the United States, NASA's first female astronauts were racing toward milestones of their own. These trail-blazing women were admitted into Group 9, NASA's first mixed-gender class. They had the challenging task of convincing the powers that be that a woman's place is in space. But once they'd been admitted into the training program, they discovered that NASA had plenty to learn about how to make space travel possible for all humans.

In…