Books that I've read about Space Travel

I was interested in space travel when I was a kid. I bet lots of people born in the 1960s and 70s were. I can remember being excited about the launch of the first Space Shuttle, although my overriding memory is that it was persistently delayed due to 'snags'. I had never heard the word snag before then. I wonder how Australian children reacted to hearing there were delays due to snags? Would they think the astronauts were eating sausages. If you're Australian and reading this let me know. Anyway, I digress.....in 1997 I went to the museums at Cape Canaveral and they're pretty cool. I also saw a shuttle launch at night which was an awesome sight. My interest in space travel got re-kindled in 2005 when I noticed a book called Moondust by Andrew Smith was published and is a kind of 'whatever happened to' of people still alive who'd been to the moon. This turned out to be my Sputnik and in the months that followed I read loads of books about space......

Anyway, with relatively little further ado, below are all the books I've read about space travel ranked by how good I thought they were. The books listed are available at Amazon.co.uk or Abebooks. Other good bookshops sell them too, as well as some bad ones.

NB: My scale, no suns being crap and five suns being marvellous, is a blatant rip-off of a clip art icon and Amazon's review scale. Note the appropriate meteorological twist to demonstrate original thought though. And as I bought most of the books listed their rating is generally higher than average!


Starman The Truth Behind the Legend Yuri Gagarin by Jamie Doran and Piers Bizony
This biography of Yuri Gagarin was also the basis to a BBC TV documentary about Gagarin in the late 1990s which I happened to catch. The book's a pretty interesting read, particularly the stuff about how his life changed after going in space and how a degree of mystery surrounds his death in an air crash in 1968. Reading between the lines I was left with the impression that there is still a lot about the Russian space programme in the 1960s which is yet to be told, but as Russians become more comfortable with discussing their past (bear in mind adults in 1960s Russia will have lived in Stalinist times when voicing thoughts and opinions could lead to imprisonment or death) you can't help but wonder what else will be made known.

Moonshot by Alan Shepard and Deke Slayton
This book written by two former US astronauts (Shepard was the first American in space and played golf on the moon and Slayton was part of the joint USA-USSR mission in the 1970s) is basically a history of the US space programme from the late 1950s through to the mid to late 1970s. It's pretty interesting and factual rather than anecdotal - for something more anecdotal I recommend Moondust by Andrew Smith and Two Sides of the Moon by David Scott and Alexei Leonov. Anyway, I was into space travel when I was a kid, and this book added much 'meat' to what I'd read when I was younger.

Moondust by Andrew Smith
Like many children of the 1970s (I guess) I was really interested on space travel when I was a kid and read what I could about it. Just as the Antarctic has a romantic, heroic age of exploration (the late 19th and early 20th century) culminating in reaching a 'big goal' (the South Pole) followed by decades of not much happening (because the 'big goal' is reached), so space travel seemed to follow a similar path with early flights in the 1950s and 60s culminating in landing on the moon. Landing on the moon being difficult (and expensive!) to top, space travel is much less well publicized these days, but like the Antarctic scientific interest will no doubt be piqued again someday. Anyway, this book is a cracking idea - the author interviews all those who have landed on the moon and are still alive. He discusses how each of them became involved in the space programme and then what they are up to now as well as discussing their thoughts on going to the moon. For some astronauts life hasn't always gone smoothly after going to the moon which is a shame, although not necessarily surprising because considering how intense and life-changing stepping on the moon must be. Anyway, Smith executes an original idea nicely and has produced a very readable book, especially if you like space travel. Having read this book I went out and bought 10-15 books about space travel!

Two Sides of the Moon by David Scott & Alexei Leonov
Two top spacemen tell the tale of the space race in the 1960s and 70s. Scott's side of the story is well documented in other publications, e.g. Moonshot, but obviously gives his take on things. Leonovís tale is less revealing, and in places contradicts with some already published details, but nevertheless quite interesting.

Seize the Moment by Helen Sharman
Helen Sharman was the first British citizen in space - she went up into space as part of a joint Russian-UK flight in the early 1990s. Her tale is quite interesting and the overriding impression that I was left with was how much training and medical tests were necessary to get her up into space! This books wasn't quite as revealing as I expected it to be - maybe this is because it was written in the early 1990s when autobiographies were, perhaps, less candid and revealing than they are now, but perhaps I expected too much from the book. I thought it was OK but nothing special - there are many better astronauts biographies about in my opinion.



These books are available at Amazon.co.uk unless they're out of print, in which case Abebooks is probably the best place to try and find them.

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Dan Suri, 5 April 2006