On September 12, 1962, President John F. Kennedy made a famous televised speech at Rice University, where he declared that the United States would put a man on the moon before the decade ended. Seven years later, on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin of Apollo 11 became the first men to set foot on the moon, famously making “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Now, on the fiftieth anniversary of that historic day, we celebrate the achievements of NASA, the space race, and the American determinism that brought us to the moon with this collection of non-fiction books.
A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts by Andrew Chaikin
This chronicle of the Apollo space program is a classic, and considered by many Apollo astronauts to be the definitive account of their voyages. Andrew Chaikin was able to interview twenty-three out of the twenty-four astronauts who have been to the moon, and completed additional interviews with the many folks at NASA who helped get the Apollo program running. Presenting an unparalleled look into our country’s lunar travels, this is a book you won’t want to skip.
Rocket Men: The Epic Story of the First Men on the Moon by Craig Nelson
If you’re looking for a book that focuses specifically on Apollo 11’s historic mission, Craig Nelson’s book is a thrilling retelling of the many events that led to that first moon walk, and the difficult transition back to life on Earth afterward. From NASA oral histories to declassified CIA documents, Nelson has poured over a treasure trove of data on the space race and lunar landings to recreate the stunning narrative behind one of humanity’s greatest achievements.
The Moon: A History for the Future by Oliver Morton
Though we didn’t step foot on the moon until 1969, humanity has always been aware of the lunar giant in the night sky. In this book, Morton goes over the history of Earth’s inhabitants’ relationship to the moon, from early astronomers to misguided first forays to the potential of future moon trips and possible settlements. By bringing us back to the hopes humanity has had over the years for lunar travel, Morton shows us the many ways in which we still have yet to meet our neighbor.
One Giant Leap: The Impossible Mission That Flew Us to the Moon by Charles Fishman
When John F. Kennedy announced to Congress in 1961 (one year before telling the world) that the United States would step foot on the moon within a decade, none were more surprised than the dedicated scientists at NASA, who suddenly had a concrete deadline for creating space travel. In this book, Charles Fishman goes behind the scenes of 1960’s NASA, where the tireless scientists and engineers did whatever they could to get us to the moon.
American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race by Douglas Brinkley
It wasn’t just wanderlust and scientific discovery that drove us to the moon; there was a great deal of political competition and turmoil that led to John F. Kennedy’s famous declaration of lunar intent. In this book, historian Douglas Brinkley looks at the many different factors that contributed to the space race, from the height of the Cold War against the Soviet Union to the cultural and scientific pushes that led to the eventual victorious voyage of Apollo 11.
Chasing the Moon: The People, the Politics, and the Promise That Launched America into the Space Age by Robert Stone and Alan Andres
The companion book to the new PBS documentary of the same name, this book features incredible insight and information on the space race, with extra information on how America’s relationship with the moon has changed over the fifty years since our initial landing. The documentary itself exclusively features archival footage and no narration, making this book a helpful tool to understand the film.
Shoot for the Moon: The Space Race and the Extraordinary Voyage of Apollo 11 by James Donovan
Before there were the Apollo missions, there were the Mercury and Gemini missions, and a dedicated group of over 400,000 men and women determined to beat the Soviet Union in the famous space race. In this book, James Donovan tracks the history of the space race, tracing it all the way back to World War II, and takes us deep into the grueling process of getting man to the moon.
Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
Overwhelmingly, the tale of the United States push for space travel focuses on the achievements of white men, who dominated the fields of engineering and science at the time. Here, Margot Lee Shetterly tells the important story of the black women who were instrumental in the success of the space program, and how their stories were eventually covered up.
Picturing Apollo 11: Rare Views and Undiscovered Moments by J.L. Pickering and John Bisney
In this visually stunning book, the fateful first successful journey to the moon is recounted through photographs, many of which are never-before-seen. From the preparations on Earth to the famous space walk to the media “Moon fever” that gripped the nation, this book presents the clearest view of every aspect of the Apollo 11 journey, barring actually being present at the time.
Failure Is Not an Option: Mission Control from Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond by Gene Kranz
For Gene Kranz and the other members of NASA’s Mission Control, failure to reach the moon meant much more than just national disappointment; it meant endangering the lives of the dedicated astronauts venturing into space. From disastrous first attempts to the successful Apollo 11 to the high-stakes Tiger Team that found a way to save the men of Apollo 13, Gene Kranz was there for it all.
Destination Moon: The Apollo Missions in the Astronauts’ Own Words by Rod Pyle
The Apollo Missions were short-lived, but they changed human history forever. Over the course of three years and nine missions, the Apollo program put twelve men on the surface of the moon. To this day, those twelve men are the only people to have ever set foot on an astronomical object other than Earth. In this book, the firsthand accounts of these astronauts are provided, offering a glimpse into an experience only a handful of people have ever undergone.
First on the Moon: A Voyage with Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr. by Gene Farmer and Dora Jane Hamblin
Just like many other books on this list, First on the Moon features interviews and stories from Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins (the third astronaut on the Apollo 11 mission). The difference? This book was published in 1970, not even a full year after the moon landing, providing an interesting glimpse into the attitudes surrounding the landing when it actually happened.
Moon Flight Atlas by Patrick Moore
If you were impressed that First on the Moon was published just a year after the landing, you will be excited to hear that the Sewickley Public Library owns a copy of Moon Flight Atlas, originally published in September 1969, just two months after the moon landing. This revised 1970 edition details the Apollo 13 flight as well, and includes an interesting section on what the public speculated was next for space travel at the time.