July 20 will mark the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, the first space mission to put people on the moon. For this feature, we rounded up forthcoming, recent, and reissued adult and children’s books pegged to the watershed achievement, and spoke with the authors of three current titles.
Narratives and pictorials showcase the people and events integral to the July 1969 mission.
Douglas Brinkley. Harper, Apr.
For this look at President John F. Kennedy’s commitment to the space program and his quest to put a U.S. astronaut on moon, Brinkley, presidential historian at CNN and New-York Historical Society, draws on primary source material and interviews with many of the key figures of the space race.
Apollo 11: The Moon Landing in Real Time
Ian Passingham. Pen & Sword, Sept.
Historian Passingham offers a day-by-day account of the lead-up to the Apollo 11 launch, the flight itself, and splashdown. In doing so, he writes, he intends to grapple with “what it meant at the time, how much excitement it generated, and how divisive it was” in the minds of people all around the world.
Apollo 11: The Inside Story
David Whitehouse. Icon, July
Written by a career astronomer and science correspondent who covered the people involved in all aspects of the first moon landing, this title’s narrative relies on the author’s old notes and tapes, press kits he stashed away in his archive, and his own perspective, honed over the course of his 40-year career, on what the journey meant to the astronauts themselves.
Carrying the Fire
Michael Collins. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Apr. (reissue)
Collins, who also flew on the 1966 Gemini 10 mission, is the only one of three Apollo 11 astronauts who didn’t walk on the surface of the moon. In 1974, shortly after this memoir was first published, he spoke with PW about wanting to tell his story “without going through a PR filter” and described the feeling of being outside a spacecraft: “There’s just you hanging there in deep dark space, with the world going by your shoulder.”
James R. Hansen. Simon & Schuster, 2018 (reissue)
Originally published in 2005, Hansen’s Neil Armstrong biography, which received a starred PW review, was adapted for a 2018 film, which won an Oscar for best visual effects. Various editions have together sold 82,000 print copies. As the author writes in his preface, it took three years for Armstrong to agree to cooperate in the book’s creation, but once he did, he “sat with me for fifty-five hours of interviews and agreed to comment on every draft chapter.”
First on the Moon
Rod Pyle. Sterling, Apr.
Packed with archival images and documents, some of them previously unpublished, this book includes a foreword by Buzz Aldrin. It’s one of several new gift-appropriate photo books and covers the mission from start to finish. Pyle has written several books on space exploration and is also the author of The Apollo Missions (Carlton, Sept.), which annotates first-person accounts from astronauts across the Apollo program.
Buzz Aldrin, with Ken Abraham. Harmony, 2009
The second, later-life autobiography of the Apollo 11 lunar module pilot is an “inspiring” story, PW’s review said, that exhibits “a different, perfectly human kind of hero, giving readers a sympathetic look at a man eclipsed by his own legend.”
Jonathan Fetter-Vorm. Hill and Wang, June
Michael Collins contributes the foreword to this graphic novel tracing humankind’s fascination with the moon back to prehistory. Fetter-Vorm depicts the Apollo 11 mission and the lives of its astronauts in color, while earlier dreams of lunar landings, including the parallel Soviet efforts to reach the moon, are shown in monochrome.
NASA Mission AS-506 Apollo 11 Owner’s Workshop Manual
Christopher Riley and Phillip Dolling. Motorbooks, Apr. (reissue)
The authors, who have worked on numerous science documentaries for the BBC, look at all the hardware that made the mission possible, through photos, engineering drawings, and schematics. Originally published in 2010.
Jay Barbree. St. Martin’s/Dunne, 2014
NBC correspondent Barbree’s portrait of Armstrong, a Korean War pilot who became a space exploration legend, includes a foreword from John Glenn. PW’s review called it “an eye-opening and entertaining tale of the race to the moon.”
One Giant Leap
Charles Fishman. S&S, June
Fishman (The Wal-mart Effect) focuses on the behind-the-scenes work of engineers, factory workers, and others who surmounted “10,000 challenges,” he writes, to accomplish the lunar landing, as well as the astronauts’ less-recounted stories, such as their experiences with the peculiar smell of the moon.
Picturing Apollo 11
J.L. Pickering and John Bisney. Univ. Press of Florida, Apr.
Rare images assembled by Pickering, a space flight historian and archivist, concentrate on the months leading up to and encompassing the launch, including contact sheets of the astronauts, their training exercises, and the recovery after splashdown in the North Pacific.
Craig Nelson. Viking, 2009
PW’s starred review called this title an “exciting read,” praising the way it follows Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong “in nail-biting detail as he tries to find a place to land with less than a minute’s worth of fuel remaining.”
Shoot for the Moon
James Donovan. Little, Brown, Mar.
Donovan, whose previous books delved into the Alamo and Little Bighorn, turns his attention skyward with this look at the U.S.–Soviet space race, “a perfect volume to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing and all that led up to it,” PW’s starred review said.
Beyond the Moonwalk
A half-century of scientific speculation preceded the space race, which made rock stars out of celestial explorers.
Chasing the Moon
Robert Stone and Alan Andres. Ballantine, June
The companion book to Stone’s forthcoming documentary series, which will air on PBS in July, highlights research into the plausibility of moon missions beginning in 1903 with Russian father of rocketry Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, who in turn was influenced by the science fiction writing of Jules Verne.
For All Mankind
Harry Hurt III. Grove, July (reissue)
This reissue of a 1998 release examines the years between 1968 and 1972, when “twenty-four men left the earth and flew to the moon,” Hurt writes. It also considers the dichotomous American reaction, he writes, “of joy and disappointment, elation and outright disapproval” to the Apollo project.
The Mission of a Lifetime
Basil Hero. Grand Central, Apr.
Hero, a former NBC investigative reporter, focuses attention on the lives of the 12 American astronauts still living who orbited or set foot on the moon, as well as on the wives who lent support on the home front. New interviews with 11 of those men present their thoughts on leadership, kindness, and whether science and spirituality can coexist.
The Penguin Book of Outer Space Exploration
Edited by John Logsdon. Penguin Classics, 2018
This look at NASA history through more than 100 documents is distilled from a seven-volume series titled Exploring the Unknown and published by the Space Policy Institute, which Logsdon founded in 1987. Included are letters, memos, editorials, and presidential statements that tell the story of American space exploration.
Reaching for the Moon
Roger Launius. Yale Univ., June
The U.S.-Soviet race to the moon originated in weapons research and manufacture during WWII. How missiles and other mechanisms of war—and the people working to build them—came together in the American lunar program is the subject of this book by a former NASA chief historian.
Robert Kurson. Random House, 2018; paperback ed. pubbing in May
Kurson (Shadow Divers) offers a narrative account of 1968’s Apollo 8 mission, the first to orbit the moon and return; it’s sold 31,000 print copies since it published in 2018. PW’s review called it “vibrant [and] accessible,” appealing to “explorers and adventurers.”
The Space-Age Presidency of John F. Kennedy
John Bisney and J.L. Pickering. Univ. of New Mexico, Mar.
This unusual assortment of photographs tracks JFK’s Cape Canaveral visits, press conferences, meetings with astronauts and families, and his viewing of the Mercury-Atlas 9 launch from a television in his secretary’s office.
Michael J. Neufeld. MIT, 2018
Neufeld, senior curator in the space history department at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, traces the history of humans reaching beyond Earth, from 19th-century scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky’s seminal work in astronautics through NASA’s recent work to orchestrate a manned mission to Mars.
Mike Massimino. Crown Archetype, 2016
Written by the first person to tweet from space, while on a Hubble Space Telescope service mission, this is “an engaging and uplifting memoir,” PW’s review said, buoyed by “Massimino’s almost childlike wonder and enthusiasm, coupled with his humility, as he recounts the magnificence of space, the camaraderie of NASA in good times and bad, and a genuine gratitude for his good fortune.”
Objects in Space
Humankind’s first steps toward the stars took moxie, and a whole lot of hardware.
A History of Space Exploration in 100 Objects
Sten Odenwald. The Experiment, Oct.
Odenwald, an astronomer, maps the trajectory of space exploration through artifacts that tell the story of humankind’s interaction with the universe. Included are Galileo’s telescope from 1609; the V-2 rocket, the first object sent into space, in 1942; and the Mangalyaan Mars orbiter, with which India joined the Mars race in 2013.
Michael H. Gorn. Voyageur, 2018
This book takes a visual dive into the vehicles that propelled humans as well as telescopes, rovers, and supplies into space, starting with the first Mercury capsule in 1957 and finishing with New Horizons, the long-drifting probe that just did a first flyby of a Kuiper Belt object in January. Technical drawings and diagrams appeal to a science-curious readership.
Nicholas de Monchaux. MIT, 2011
De Monchaux, associate professor of architecture and urban design at University of California–Berkeley, shows how 1940s flight suits were transformed into spacesuits. He plumbed archives and interviewed NASA-employed seamstresses to unearth photos of multiple iterations of the suits, and draws connections between space-wear and science fiction, architecture, and couture.
The Vinyl Frontier
Jonathan Scott. Bloomsbury Sigma, May
The Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 probes, launched in 1977, each carry an LP of greetings in multiple languages, including whale, as well as music—the meat of this book’s matter—by artists including Chuck Berry, Blind Willie Johnson, Mozart, and Navajo vocalists and instrumentalists. “Delivered with effortless grace,” PW’s starred review said, “this buoyant look at one of NASA’s most unusual but oft-overlooked efforts will appeal to music fans and astronomy buffs alike.”
The Tides of History
The moon, long a focus of human imagination, continues to make its presence felt across society.
Roger D. Launius. Smithsonian, May
“What has been the long-term significance of the Apollo program now that half a century has passed?” asks Launius, former NASA chief historian. In 180-plus pages he explores its impact on science, implications for life on Earth, and the ways it isolated the heroes it created.
Mia Fineman and Beth Saunders. Metropolitan Museum of Art, July
This accompaniment to an exhibit of the same name opening in July traces the history of lunar photography and examines works in other media that were influenced by early images of the moon taken from Earth and, later, from its surface.
Houston: Space City USA
Ray Viator. Texas A&M Univ., Feb.
The Texas city is home to the Johnson Space Center, which provides training, research, and flight control for NASA’s human space missions. Journalist and photographer Viator depicts the ways the city celebrates this connection daily—pro sports teams the Astros and the Rockets, for instance, and the arm patch on every police officer’s uniform that reads “Space City USA.”
Richard Wiseman. TarcherPerigee, June
Psychologist Wiseman turns the moon landing into a lesson for success for those who likely will never journey into space. What does lunar travel have to teach us? According to Wiseman and the members of Apollo’s mission control he interviewed: the importance of failure, passion, self-belief, and flexibility.
Moon: Art, Science, Culture
Robert Massey and Alexandra Loske. Ilex, 2018
Massey, an astronomer, and Loske, a historian, consider the many ways the moon has made its mark on Earth. Featured are 180 objects, among them lunar globes and antiquarian books, stage sets and Soviet propaganda posters, and paintings, postage stamps, and photographs.
Safely to Earth
Jack Clemons. Univ. Press of Florida, 2018
A former NASA lead engineer shares his take on various events around the Apollo and Space Shuttle missions, such as the frenetic days spent rescuing Apollo 13, as well as the minute details of the engineer’s toolkit, including the reference manuals he used to calculate reentry paths.
After six astronaut flights and numerous mechanical missions to the moon, where does humankind go from here? These books have some ideas.
Oliver Morton. Economist, June
British science writer Morton (The Planet Remade) contemplates “the space between the Moon of the past and the Moons of the future,” he writes. In eight chapters, he discusses its phases and orbit, visits by humans, and the international plans to return.
Leonard David. National Geographic, May
A foreword by Apollo 11’s Buzz Aldrin kicks off this look at possible moon visits of the future, when it could serve as a base for launching astronauts to Mars. It includes a summary of lunar science—what’s known, and what isn’t—50 years after humankind’s first trip there.
Lela Nargi is an author and freelance journalist in Brooklyn.