Once upon a time, space was only something that humankind could gaze upon and dream about. People wrote outlandish stories about what might be up there, but for most of recorded human history, no one actually knew. Sure, they could see stars and moons and planets, but no one could visit. That all changed in the mid-20th century, when we started actually being launched into the sky. The people who went to space were named astronauts, and as little kids, many of us have lofty goals of being one, but few actually get to touch the stars. That’s why reading about astronauts is so fascinating, hence this list of 30 great astronaut books.
Below, you’ll find stories by and about people who have flown in shuttles, walked on the moon, and visited space stations, as well as a few stories of the people who helped get them there. We may have only explored a fraction of space, but every story about it is exciting and new! There are also several great novels of space exploration, and several fun kids’ books on astronauts, too! The observable, explorable universe is finite, but you’ll never run out of books about space. And with this handy list, you’ll be flying among the stars in no time!
Through the Glass Ceiling to the Stars: The Story of the First American Woman to Command a Space Mission by Col. Eileen M. Collins USAF (Retired), with Jonathan H. Ward
For the first time in her illustrious career, Collins discusses her many groundbreaking achievements in the sky, including being the first woman to command an American space mission, and being the first female instructor pilot at Vance Air Force Base — after she graduated in the first class of women to earn pilot’s wings.
An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything by Chris Hadfield
Being above the planet and looking down on the world has to do wild things to your brain and your sense of self. This is part memoir, part life advice, filled with Hadfield’s thoughts on what space travel has taught him about life back on Earth.
Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery by Scott Kelly
Kelly has been on numerous spaceflights and is the American record holder for consecutive days spent in space. He shares his stories about all that time spent away from home (like as far away as you can get), as well as his life down here, which includes a twin brother, Mark Kelly, who was also an astronaut.
Before Melvin was an astronaut, he was an NFL wide receiver with dreams of reaching the stars. An injury sidelined those dreams for a while, but Melvin never gave up hope, and eventually made it to space. As famous as he is for being an astronaut, he’s probably just as famous for posing with his dogs for his official NASA portrait.
Back to Earth: What Life in Space Taught Me About Our Home Planet — And Our Mission to Protect It by Nicole Stott
Stott’s visit to outer space left her thinking more about life down here on Earth. She shares her determination to get the word out about climate change and her hopes that we can still work together to save the planet.
Handprints on Hubble: An Astronaut’s Story of Invention by Kathryn D. Sullivan
Sullivan was the first American woman to walk in space. She did it as part of the team that worked on the Hubble Space Telescope. Without the care and repair that the telescope received, we wouldn’t know many of the things we do about space.
The Last American Hero: The Remarkable Life of John Glenn by Alice L. George
Glenn was a national hero his whole life. He became the first American to orbit Earth in 1962 and he returned to space many years later at the age of 77. Glenn was a senator, a family man, and a lifelong member of a very exclusive club — an astronaut.
Women in Space: 23 Stories of First Flights, Scientific Missions, and Gravity-Breaking Adventures by Karen Bush Gibson
While not very many men have been to space, even fewer women have visited. It started with Valentina Tereshkova in 1963. And more women are choosing the field every year, working hard to gain a place among the stars. This is a look at 23 who have made it.
Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space by Lynn Sherr
Sally Ride was the first American woman in space! And while millions know about her space exploits, this biography delves deep into her closely guarded personal life.
Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
And this book is not about astronauts, per se, but without the work of these Black women mathematicians at NASA decades ago, the U.S. may not have beat the Soviet Union in the space race, or even made it to the stars.
The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe
Before The Martian came along, this was probably the most famous book about astronauts that had been published, fiction or nonfiction. New York Times bestselling author Wolfe took an incisive look into the lives and families of American astronauts Yeager, Conrad, Grissom, and Glenn.
Novels about Astronauts
To Be Taught, if Fortunate by Becky Chambers
This novella is great fun, set in the 22nd century and full of exciting wild speculations about what humans will be able to do in space.
In the Quick by Kate Hope Day
In this novel, space exploration is so common that they have schools for it (with old equipment and poor funding). Jane is a child genius who dreams of going to space one day, but achieving her dreams will not go the way she expected.
The Apollo Murders by Chris Hadfield
And who better to write a novel set in space than an actual astronaut??? Hadfield’s thriller is set in the 1970s and follows a mission to the moon that might turn deadly.
Ninefox Gambit (Machineries of Empire Book 1) by Yoon Ha Lee
In the first book in this Locus Award winning trilogy, a disgraced space captain will have to rely on the help of an undead and unstable tactician to retake a fortress.
Binti: The Complete Trilogy by Nnedi Okorafor
This book collects the three amazing, award-winning novellas about a young girl who is the first of her people to travel to space. Binti looks forward to attending Oomza University, but her trip there is interrupted by an alien race, and it teaches Binti more about herself and the universe than she knew.
The Martian by Andy Weir
And this is probably the most famous 21st century novel about astronauts. It’s the story of an astronaut accidentally left behind on Mars, who has to figure out unconventional ways to stay alive while trying to get word back to Earth that he’s still alive.
Nonfiction Astronaut Books
A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts by Andrew Chaikin
The basis for From the Earth to the Moon, the miniseries produced by Tom Hanks, this is an in-depth look at the Apollo space program and the people who worked on the ground and in the sky.
Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man’s First Journey to the Moon by Robert Kurson
This is the tale of the first crewed space flight to leave Earth’s orbit and to orbit the moon. The story of this adventure reads like a thriller, with lots of decisions coming down to the wire and many seemingly impossible obstacles that were overcome.
Making Space for Women: Stories from Trailblazing Women of NASA’s Johnson Space Center by Jennifer M. Ross-Nazzal
This is not just about astronauts, but many of the women that have made space travel possible. Using 21 interviews conducted for the NASA Oral History Projects, Ross-Nazzal paints a complete picture of all the different work required to get astronauts up into the skies.
Kids’ Books About Astronauts
Ron’s Big Mission by Rose Blue and Corinne Naden, illustrated by Don Tate
This is based on the true story of Ron McNair, one of the seven astronauts who died during the Challenger launch. It’s about how McNair challenged segregation laws in the South in the 1950s by obtaining his own library card.
Astronaut Training by Aneta Cruz, illustrated by Olivia Aserr
In this picture book, Astrid has big dreams of becoming an astronaut, and thinks her life as a pretend astronaut is preparing her for the job. But she learns that she’s going to need a lot more than make believe if she wants to make it to the stars for real.
We Dream of Space by Erin Entrada Kelly
And this is an award-nominated novel, about three siblings in 1986 as the world gets ready for the launch of the Challenger. Cash, Fitch, and Bird Nelson Thomas are kids in Delaware with their own struggles and dreams, one of whom hopes to one day make their own trip to space.
Galaxy Girls: 50 Amazing Stories of Women in Space by Libby Jackson
This beautifully illustrated picture book will teach children about 50 different women and their space-related adventures, from Ada Lovelace and her computer in the 19th century to the women leading the way towards Mars exploration.
Reaching for the Moon: The Autobiography of NASA Mathematician Katherine Johnson by Katherine Johnson
Astronaut Kalpana Chawla, Reaching for the Stars by Ai-Ling Louie, illustrated by H. Rick Pettway
This is a biography of Chawla, the first woman of Indian origin to go to space (and who tragically died in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003). Chawla came to the U.S. from India to study to be an astronaut and never once doubted her path. You can also learn more about her next year in Chelsea Clinton’s She Persisted series with Kalpana Chawla by Raakhee Mirchandani.
Exo by Fonda Lee
And if you like exciting YA astronaut books, check this one out! A century after the Earth is taken over by an alien race, the abduction of the human liaison’s teen son by a revolutionary group sparks the start of what will lead to a fight for the Earth’s survival.
Leland Melvin by J. P. Miller, illustrated by Amanda Quartey
Melvin is such a fascinating figure in the space world, I had to include two books about him! This also discusses his first career as an NFL player, and how he overcame obstacles to finally get play among the stars.
Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed and Stasia Burrington
And this is a delightfully illustrated picture book about Mae Jemison, the first Black woman to travel to space. It shows Jemison as a young girl with big dreams, and how she finally mae-d (sorry not sorry) it to the stars.
Astro Girl by Ken Wilson-Max
And last but not least, another adorable picture book (and weirdly also about a little girl named Astrid), who spends the day with her father pretending to be an astronaut while she waits for her mother to come home from work. If you are looking for astronaut books for toddlers, this one has adorable illustrations.
If you still haven’t gotten your fill of astronaut books or books about space, be sure to check out 25 of the Best Children’s Books About Space and 20 Must-Read Spacefaring Comics and Graphic Novels. There’s also some of my recent favorite books that take place in space, too, including Dead Silence by S.A. Barnes, The First Cat in Space Ate Pizza by Mac Barnett and Shawn Harris, and the upcoming The Scourge Between Stars by Ness Brown.