There are a huge number of books out there covering space exploration, but in my opinion, very few that manage to combine definitive coverage with an exciting read. So, here is my shortlist for books you should read if you want to enjoy finding out more about the history of manned space exploration.
I’ve included Amazon links, (I get nothing from these).
Early Years: The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe.
This book really got on the inside of the start of the American manned space program, and begins with Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier. And when it’s good enough for Chuck himself to put in an appearance in the film, you know it’s authentic.
It’s worth noting that both the book and the film are excellent, but with a very different emphasis. So if you have tried one, it’s well worth checking out the other.
Apollo: A Man on the Moon, Andrew Chaiken.
The definitive account of the Apollo years, mission by mission. It’s seriously in depth, and a seriously good read too.
This one was also made into an excellent TV series, with Tom Hanks.
Into the Black, Rowland White.
I only read this recently, but I was seriously impressed. It covers the early attempts to get a miliary Manned Orbiting Laboratory, and is mainly focused on the transition from the Apollo Program to the first shuttle flight. And the number of near catastrophes on that first flight is very scary.
It’s particularly strong on how the intelligence requirements shaped the program, and benefited it.
Rockets and People, Boris Chertok.
Boris Chertok was on the Sergei Korolev’s deputies and worked with him from the earliest days, when they first got their hands on German V2 technology.
And the books cover the period right up to the Soviet Manned Luanr program.
They were translated into English by Asif Siddiqi for NASA, with considerable assistance directly from Chertok himself.
And the translation really is superb – most books I have read translated from Russian are stilted and don’t flow well, but this is a very easy read.
Even better, it is available for free download in several digital formats, so if you have an e-reader or tablet, head over here and download it immediately!
Avoid the scammers on Amazon who have repackaged or printed this…
Rockets and People
Volume 3, (Centred on the Gagarin years), and volume 4, (Manned Lunar Program), will be most interesting for most readers. (I didn’t find it necessary to read them in the correct order).
The Soviet Space Race with Apollo
The definitive factual account by Asif Siddiqi.
There’s a huge amount of speculative and downright incorrect information out there about the Soviet Union’s space program. This book fixes that.
Perhaps drier than the other books I list here, but it more than makes up for that with the comprehensive and objective coverage.
Essential reading if you want to know what really happened, in considerable depth.
I’ll be interested to hear in other books people think should make the list, please let me know in the comments!
4 thoughts on “History of Manned Spaceflight, The Essential Books.”
I just read “The Sky Below” by Scott Parazynski. Having read practically all of the astronaut biographies this is one of the best – and certainly the best covering the Shuttle era. As well as covering how his upbringing influenced his life, the detail on his 5 missions, especially STS 120 in which he performed an unscheduled space walk to repair a damaged solar panel, is superb. He also talks about the effects of the Columbia disaster. It also covers the post-astronaut phase of his life and his determination to climb Everest and the huge challenges he overcame to finally make it.
Sounds cool, I’ll add it to my wish list!
For this post though, I was more interested in books that provide a historic view.
(And for personal accounts it’s VERY hard to beat “Carrying the Fire” by Michael Collins!)
Thanks for the feedback!
Please look at ‘Of a Fire on the Moon ‘by Norman Mailer .
“The Soviet Space Race with Apollo” is the same as “Challenge To Apollo: The Soviet Union and The Space Race, 1945-1974” which is a free 354.3 MB download from NASA’s NTRS system: https://ntrs.nasa.gov/search.jsp?R=20000088626 . Thanks for putting together this list.