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8 Space Exploration Books to Add to Your TBR

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Jaime Herndon

Contributor

Jaime Herndon finished her MFA in nonfiction writing at Columbia, after leaving a life of psychosocial oncology and maternal-child health work. She is a writer, editor, and book reviewer who drinks way too much coffee. She is a new-ish mom, so the coffee comes in extra handy. Twitter: @IvyTarHeelJaime

Space exploration: even those words alone sound monumental…at least to me. Exploring space feels sort of like a misnomer, though — the cosmos is so vast that we have barely explored any of it, in all honesty. But at the same time, those two words hold a lot of promise and hint at what could be discovered in the future. And that’s pretty exciting to think about when it comes to space exploration books.

With so much out there and so much to explore, there’s a wide variety of books if you’d like to read more about it. NASA was created in 1958, and the space shuttle program formally began in 1972. While the shuttle program ended in 2011, that doesn’t mean we aren’t exploring space: there’s the James Webb Space Telescope, the rovers Curiosity and Perseverance, and SpaceX missions, to name just a few ways we’re still exploring.

I’ve put together some great books to check out for anyone interested in space exploration. While I couldn’t list all of them, there are also other great titles like Reaching for the Stars by José M. Hernández, Escaping Gravity: My Quest to Transform NASA and Launch a New Space Age by Lori Carver, and the forthcoming book Challenger: A True Story of Heroism and Disaster on the Edge of Space by Adam Higginbotham.

Grab your favorite snack, get cozy, and let’s dive in!

Children’s Books About Space Exploration

cover of Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed, showing a brown-skinned girl in an astronaut helmet with a purple and blue sky in the background

Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed and Stasia Burrington

It’s never too early to read stories of inspiring people with children, and this is a favorite of mine. Jemison was the first African American woman in space and is a brilliant astronaut. While the book doesn’t go into space exploration per se, it’s a story about how encouragement, combined with passion, curiosity, and hard work, helped Mae achieve her dream of going into space. The gentle illustrations are beautiful and calming and a perfect complement to the text. This is one you’ll reach for again and again.

cover of the Complete Guide to Space Exploration

The Complete Guide to Space Exploration: A Journey of Discovery Across the Universe (Lonely Planet Kids) by Ben Hubbard

I got this for my son when we started our astronomy unit in homeschool back in September, and I don’t think he’s stopped reading and rereading it since then. It’s a constant fixture in his playroom while he builds his LEGO spacecrafts. It’s a Lonely Planet Kids book, so you know it’s going to be good, and it doesn’t disappoint. Anything your kid (or you) wanted to know about space exploration? It’s probably in here: history, important people, different spacecrafts, future goals, practical issues, and much, much more, all of which are accompanied by plenty of pictures, infographics, and maps.

cover of Chasing Space (YR edition)

Chasing Space (Young Readers’ edition) by Leland Melvin

Melvin didn’t set out to be an astronaut; in fact, he was a football player for the Detroit Lions. After a career-ending injury, he ended up joining NASA and went on the shuttle Atlantis to help build the International Space Station — and this is his story. Written for middle grade readers, he details how he dealt with an injury that almost left him permanently Deaf and the ways he faced challenges with a positive attitude and not giving up. (Plus, come on: look at that cover photo! You know it’s going to be a great book with a photo like that!).

See You in the Cosmos cover

See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng

While this is a middle grade novel, I included it here because it very much has the spirit of space exploration woven through the entire book. Alex loves space and rockets: so much so that his dog is named Carl Sagan. He wants to send his iPod into space like Sagan sent the Golden Record into space on Voyager in 1977, and so he records all the things going on in his world onto the iPod so lifeforms on other planets know what life on Earth is like. But as time goes on, and secrets start coming out about his family, he starts to wonder who he really has in his life — and what he finds might surprise him.

Space Exploration Books for Adults

cover of The Six

The Six: The Untold Story of America’s First Women Astronauts by Loren Grush

My only complaint about this book is that even at over 400 pages, it’s too short. I simply wanted more: more stories, more information, and more time with these astronauts. Grush writes about the first six women astronauts chosen in 1978: Sally Ride, Judy Resnik, Anna Fisher, Kathy Sullivan, Shannon Lucid, and Rhea Seddon. She writes about their journey to NASA, their contributions to the field, and the challenges they faced as women in the space program.

cover of Hidden Figures; photo of the actresses from the movie adaptation

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly

Even if you’ve seen the movie, I highly recommend the book. Shetterly writes about the Black female mathematicians at NASA who were the “human computers” that crunched numbers to figure out how to launch rockets (and people) into space, and the story is so compelling that you’ll have a hard time putting the book down. She focuses on four women in particular: Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden, and shares their overlapping and intertwining stories, both personal and professional, and how they changed the world in spite of the rampant racism they faced.

cover of City on Mars

A City on Mars by Kelly Weinersmith and Zach Weinersmith

There’s been a lot of talk about colonizing Mars, but just because it might be an option, is it really something we should do? Kelly and Zach Weinersmith take this topic on, and the result is a funny, information-packed guide to space exploration and possible space settlements, answering almost any question under the sun about undertaking such a thing. They explore the geopolitical impacts and considerations, legalities, making babies in space, and intricacies of daily life — and those are just some of the topics here. It’s a thought-provoking, entertaining, but also serious book about how much we don’t know about the practical things we take for granted here about the basic details of life.

cover of The new Guys

The New Guys: The Historic Class of Astronauts That Broke Barriers and Changed the Face of Space Travel by Meredith Bagby

We take for granted the diversity of astronauts (which, yes, could still be improved) but it hasn’t always been that way— not at all. Bagby writes about the 1978 astronaut class of NASA, which included the first women, the first African Americans, the first Asian American, and the first LGBTQ+ individual to go to space. Nicknamed “The F*cking New Guys,” this was quite a departure from previous classes and was full of egos, ambition, brilliance, and personality clashes. This book gives you not only a front-row seat to the interpersonal aspects of the class but also a look at the program itself at a time of monumental change and growth.

If you want even more space books, check out this post on books about the moon and this post featuring books about astrophysics and space.