To Infinity and Beyond: 6 Books about Space

Milky Way over mountains
Photo courtesy Scott Cresswell on Flickr under CC License.

May the Force be with you on this May fourth–Star Wars Day! While we’re not yet up to the level of space travel and exploration that is shown in the Star Wars films, we have learned a great deal about what is really in the sky above us and our place in all of it. The selections below offer a variety of ways to learn about and interact with space from an examination of the Apollo program and how we sent men to the moon, to a look at the demise of the former planet Pluto, to a science fiction book about a man stranded on Mars. Choose your own adventure into space with one of the library’s many titles on astronomy!

How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming book coverHow I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming by Mike Brown

In 2005 astronomer Mike Brown’s life changed forever when he made a huge discovery–another, larger planetoid orbiting the sun past Pluto. However, rather than adding a 10th planet to our Solar System, Brown’s discovery ignited international discussion and controversy and led to the demotion of Pluto from a planet to the newly coined category of dwarf planet. The controversy surrounding the issue of Pluto’s status sent reporters after Brown and led to him receiving hate mail from children devastated by the loss of the smallest planet. In How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming Brown tells the story of his discovery and the whirlwind that followed both from a scientific and personal perspective.

A Man on the Moon book coverA Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts by Andrew Chaikin

Based on interviews with twenty-three Apollo-era astronauts and many others who worked to get the program off the ground, A Man on the Moon is the deeply researched story of the Apollo program and the incredible lengths that so many people went to to put a man on the moon. Chaikin covers each Apollo mission in detail provided straight from the memories of those who were actually there, the engineers, the people in mission control, and of course the astronauts themselves. From the horrible fire on the launchpad that ended the Apollo 1 mission before it even began to the geological training of the Apollo 17 astronauts, nothing is left out of this comprehensive accounting of the greatest era of space exploration.

The Hidden Reality book coverThe Hidden Reality by Brian Greene

Our universe used to mean everything that existed, but recent developments in high level physics and astronomy have led to huge changes in the way that we conceptualize our universe and what might lie beyond it. Most dramatically has been the rise of the multiverse theory, a theory that there are many other universes outside our own, as well as several different proposals for what a multiverse may consist of. In The Hidden Reality Brian Greene takes on these challenging conceptual ideas and lays them out in the simplest terms using easy to grasp analogies and explanations. Here the furthest reaches of our universe and beyond are laid bare as Greene takes us on a journey to the cutting edge of physics and astronomy.

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth book coverAn Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield

Both the biography of a modern astronaut, a book filled with the science of space travel, with a little personal self-help philosophy thrown into the mix makes Hadfield’s memoir a deeply entertaining story of one man’s road to space and beyond. Full of anecdotes about the space program, life in the space station, and dealing with crises in space all tempered with the Hadfield’s personal synthesis of what these experiences taught him about how to live his life to the fullest, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth shows all of us down here on the planet how to take an astronaut’s view of things.

Packing for Mars book coverPacking for Mars by Mary Roach

In Packing for Mars Mary Roach uses her unique investigative approach to learn more about the unprecedented challenges that come with strapping human beings into rockets and blasting them into space for weeks or months at a time. While the book is deeply concerned with issues of spaceflight, the way that it approaches these questions is rooted firmly on Earth. Roach travels all over the country to see just how scientists, astronauts, and everyday people try to anticipate and simulate the problems that arise with putting humans in space. From space toilets, to the psychology of isolation, to atrophying muscles, no topic is too strange or intimate for Roach to investigate.

The Martian book coverThe Martian by Andy Weir

Mark Watney has been stranded on Mars just six days into one of the first manned missions to Mars. Left for dead by his crewmates after a brutal Martian windstorm forced them to abandon their mission, Watney survives the storm and manages to make it back to the habitation pod designed to support a crew of six for a month. There’s just one problem, even if he does manage to alert mission control back on Earth to his survival, it takes two years for a spaceship to make it to Mars and he’ll be long dead by then. The Martian tracks the actions of both Watney on Mars and the various personnel back at NASA as they struggle to find some way to bring one man home before the red planet kills him. While this book is definitely fictional, the problem solving and situational factors are firmly rooted in science. Backed by hard science and populated with wonderful characters and the ultimate man vs. the wilderness situation, The Martian presents a compelling story of what could be in the near future of our space exploration program.