On July 4, NASA’s Juno probe reached Jupiter’s orbit, marking only the most recent milestone in ongoing efforts to bring space travel down to Earth. Astronauts now have Twitter accounts and robots routinely explore the surface of Mars, so it’s not surprising that an asteroid belt’s worth of books on the cosmos is set to hit stores in the next year.
Readers new to the subject will find accessible introductory volumes, including two by rock star astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. (Read our q&a with Tyson.) Several titles delve into the centuries-old history of stargazing, while others, aimed at modern-minded astro-ficionados, cover current and future exploration missions, astronaut memoirs, and speculations about where human spaceflight may be headed.
There are even science-based books covering astrobiology, the search for extraterrestrial life, and the possibilities for what such life might be like— for those pining for the glory days of The X-Files. In other words, there’s plenty of space—and books on it—for everyone.
Mars: Our Future on the Red Planet
Leonard David. National Geographic, Nov.
This companion to the National Geographic Channel’s Mars series combines science with art and photography for a comprehensive picture of Mars and the potential for human exploration of the planet.
A Space Traveler’s Guide to the Solar System
Mark Thompson. Pegasus, Nov.
British astronomer Thompson gives a guided tour of a hypothetical human journey through our solar system, providing detailed descriptions of the experience of flight in outer space.
StarTalk: Everything You Ever Need to Know About Space Travel, Sci-Fi, the Human Race, the Universe, and Beyond
Neil deGrasse Tyson. National Geographic, Sept.
This companion volume to Tyson’s popular podcast and National Geographic Channel TV show of the same name compiles highlights from the show, quotes from guests including Dan Aykroyd and Bill Nye, and science facts presented in a lighthearted way, along with illustrations and photography.
Welcome to the Universe: An Astrophysical Tour
Neil deGrasse Tyson, Michael Strauss, and J. Richard Gott. Princeton Univ., Oct.
This sweeping educational book by a trio of astrophysicists covers the same ground as the introductory class the authors taught at Princeton: stars, planets, black holes, and the expansion of the universe.
The Final Mission: Preserving NASA’s Apollo Sites
Lisa Westwood, Beth O’Leary, and Milford Donaldson. Univ. of Florida, Feb. 2017
Many sites important to the history of space exploration have been abandoned and are falling into disrepair. Archaeologist Westwood, anthropologist O’Leary, and historical preservationist Donaldson explain the necessity of preserving these sites for future generations, and the ways in which the launch facilities, test sites, and even lunar sites can be properly tended.
The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars
Dava Sobel. Viking, Dec.
From the mid-19th century through the mid-20th, women employed as “computers” at the Harvard College Observatory studied and interpreted astronomical data, sometimes from pictures on glass plates. Their work is often omitted from the historical narrative, but here, Sobel tells their stories and reveals how their discoveries revolutionized the field of astronomy and paved the way for future scientists.
Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race
Margot Lee Shetterly. Morrow, Sept.
Scholar Shetterly, who works on the Human Computer Project, assembles the story of the female African-American mathematicians who worked for NASA in the segregated Jim Crow South, drawing on firsthand accounts, interviews, historical documents, and more. A film adaptation, starring Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monáe, and Octavia Spencer is scheduled to be released in January 2017.
A Portable Cosmos: Revealing the Antikythera Mechanism, a Scientific Wonder of the Ancient World
Alexander Jones. Oxford Univ., Feb. 2017
The Antikythera mechanism is an ancient machine, recovered from a shipwreck in the Aegean, that tracked the movements of stars and planets, technologically far ahead of its time. This book addresses its discovery and study, and also the relation between this ingenious mechanism and ancient ideas of astronomy.
Apollo Pilot: The Memoir of Astronaut Donn Eisele
Donn Eisele, edited by Francis French. Univ. of Nebraska, Jan. 2017
Eisele (1930–1987) flew on Apollo 7, the first manned Apollo mission. He never flew in space again, as divorce and what press materials call “a testy commander” led to his crew being labeled as troublemakers. His memoir, which covers his time in the Air Force and in the Apollo program, was discovered after his death and is being published for the first time.
Beyond Earth: Our Path to a New Home in the Planets
Charles Wohlforth and Amanda Hendrix. Pantheon, Nov.
Science writer Wohlforth and planetary scientist Hendrix discuss what it really takes to get to space, in terms of our current capabilities and limitations, taking into consideration technology, politics, human nature, and more. They also make a case for the colonization of Saturn’s moon Titan, viewing it as a more feasible prospect for a future human settlement than Mars.
Exploration and Engineering: The Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Quest for Mars
Erik Conway. Johns Hopkins Univ., Oct.
This inside look at Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory details its history, structure, and process of innovation. Conway, JPL’s science and technology historian, introduces readers to the lab’s groundbreaking rovers, landers, and other creations, which have spearheaded successful Mars missions.
4th Rock from the Sun: The Story of Mars
Nicky Jenner. Sigma, Apr. 2017
Jenner, a writer and editor for the European Space Agency, European Southern Observatory, and others, covers what we know (and don’t know) about the Red Planet: from ancient mythological ideas about Mars as a harbinger of war to modern evidence that the frozen, arid planet may have once supported microbial life—and could, one day, host a human presence.
How to Make a Spaceship: A Band of Renegades, an Epic Race, and the Birth of Private Spaceflight
Julian Guthrie. Penguin Press, Oct.
In an effort to kick-start the private space industry, entrepreneur Peter Diamandis created the X Prize, a $10 million payout for the plucky team who could launch a craft into space twice in two weeks. Journalist Guthrie writes of how Diamandis and others secured funding, the ingenuity of various teams who competed for the prize, and the eventual victory of SpaceShipOne.
Spaceman: An Astronaut’s Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe
Mike Massimino. Crown Archetype, Oct.
Massimino, who helped fix the Hubble Space Telescope in 2009, writes of his unlikely route to becoming an astronaut and his days at NASA.
Life, the Universe, and Everything
Aliens: The World’s Leading Scientists on the Search for Extraterrestrial Life
Edited by Jim Al-Khalili. Picador, May 2017
Theoretical physicist Al-Khalili assembled this collection of essays to provide a snapshot of how scientists think about the potential for life elsewhere in the universe. Looking at such arenas as genetics, evolution, space travel, AI, and philosophy, a variety of scientists address many questions about the possibility of extraterrestrial life, how we might find it, and the nature of life itself.
The Aliens are Coming! The Extraordinary Science Behind Our Search for Life in the Universe
Ben Miller. The Experiment, Oct.
British quantum physicist Miller, who is also a professional comedian and actor, draws from many different areas of science to probe the varied ways scientists are advancing the search for extraterrestrial life. Blending pop culture and scientific rigor, Miller shows how data from telescopes and spacecraft are being combined with biological research to offer a greater understanding of life and bring us ever closer to finding it elsewhere.
All These Worlds Are Yours: The Scientific Search for Alien Life
Jon Willis. Yale Univ., Sept.
Astronomy professor and researcher Willis discusses five ways we might find extraterrestrial life in our solar system or beyond. Drawing on current space exploration and astrobiology research, he considers nearby water-rich planets and moons, the search for Earth-like planets and distant radio signals, and what Earth’s biology can tell us about possible alien life. The book’s title references Arthur C. Clarke’s 2010: Odyssey Two, in which primitive life-forms are found on Jupiter and Europa.
Deep Life: The Hunt for the Hidden Biology of Earth, Mars, and Beyond
Tullis Onstott. Princeton Univ., Nov.
By understanding what life is capable of on Earth and how it evolved, scientists can formulate new theories about what to look for when searching for new life among the stars. Geosciences professor Onstott invites readers to travel with him and his team as they search Earth’s most inhospitable regions for the kinds of hidden, buried life that can give clues to what might exist elsewhere in the universe.
Goldilocks and the Water Bears: The Search for Life in the Universe
Louisa Preston. Sigma, Nov.
Though it’s located in a “Goldilocks Zone” (just the right distance from a star to be metal-rich and to sustain liquid water), Earth contains many extreme environments where life manages to thrive. These types of organisms, extremophiles, may resemble life on other planets. Preston, an astrobiologist and planetary geologist, explains how these life-forms can aid the search for life on other worlds by showing what to look for and expanding the range of conditions we know to be habitable for life.
The 37th Parallel: The Secret Truth Behind America’s UFO Highway
Ben Mezrich. Atria, Sept.
Mezrich, whose Bringing Down the House has sold 700,000 print copies per Nielsen BookScan, turns his attention to Chuck Zukowski, a computer programmer who tracks allegedly paranormal events. His UFO-hunting hobby leads him into long investigations, searches for scientifically sound data, and encounters with unexplained phenomena. He takes massive risks to find the true explanation for strange animal deaths and lights in the sky—though he personally favors attributing them to aliens.
Waiting for Contact: The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence
Lawrence Squeri. Univ. of Florida, Sept.
The SETI movement has faced many troubles since it emerged in 1959, battling financial problems and struggling to be taken seriously in the scientific community. History professor Squeri chronicles the history of SETI: the people behind it, the search for signals from deep space, and the hopes for bettering Earth through alien contact.
Gwynna Norton is a student and writer living in Madison, Wis.