Building a Great Air and Space Library

To find the very best books about the world of aviation and spaceflight, we asked for recommendations.

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On the Frontier: Flight Research at Dryden, 1946-1981 (NASA, 1984) and Test Pilots : The Frontiersmen of Flight (Smithsonian, 1988), both by Richard P. Hallion. The author, currently the U.S. Air Force Historian, chronicles the intensive flight research done in California's high desert and the personalities of those who flew on space's ragged edge.

Introduction to Space: The Science of Spaceflight, Third Edition by Thomas Damon (Krieger Publishing Company, 2001). Employing scads of drawings, illustrations, and charts, Damon explains the science of space travel in all of its nuances and variables. He describes how space probes navigate interplanetary routes, how satellites stay in orbit, how the space shuttle works, and how rockets manage to lift so many tons of fuel and material into space.

Conquest of Space by Chesley Bonestell (Viking Press, 1949). This book is a must for collectors. Bonestell, an artist and illustrator, published Conquest of Space in 1949 with space expert Willy Ley, who wrote the text. It is hard to find-though not impossible, thanks to the Internet-but an essential artifact, predicting with imaginatively detailed illustrations what space travel would be like. Bonestell went on to become a regular contributor to Life and Colliers, where his illustrations helped fuel public enthusiasm for manned space exploration.

Apollo: The Race to the Moon by Charles Murray and Catherine Cox (Simon & Schuster, 1990). Beautifully researched and written, this is the best account of the engineering effort behind the Apollo missions, and the story of the flight planners who executed Apollo from mission control.

Chariots for Apollo by Courtney Brooks, James Grimwood, and Lloyd Swenson (NASA publication SP-4205, published in 1979; text is available on line at Not to be confused with a book by the same title, about the lunar module.) This thoroughly researched volume covers essential details of the development of the Apollo spacecraft and the planning of the Apollo missions, based on interviews and NASA documents.

To a Rocky Moon: A Geologist's History of Lunar Exploration by Don Wilhelms (University of Arizona Press, 1994). We didn't go to the moon in the name of scientific discovery, but that was one of the adventure's chief rewards. The story of the geologic exploration of the moon is told by one of its key players, in a thorough and highly readable narrative.

Space Shuttle: The History of the National Space Transportation System; The First 100 Missions by Dennis R. Jenkins (Dennis R. Jenkins Publishing, 2001). This book exhaustively documents the shuttle's development and each mission flown until late 2000.

Space Science and Astronomy

Men, Monsters, and the Modern Universe by George Lovi and Wil Tirion (Willmann-Bell, 1989). Lovi was a guru of skylore to a generation of planetarium folk. This book includes a reproduction of Alexander Jamieson's early 19th century sky atlas (plates printed on the left pages), as well as a modern atlas by Tirion, similar to the ones he did for the newer editions of Norton's Star Atlas (another recommended title). The latter maps are printed on the right side, so you can compare the old with the new. Jamieson's atlas contained the largest number of constellations of all the old-style "pictorial" atlases, and each plate is accompanied by a page of constellation lore written by Lovi. A "must have."

Nightwatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe by Terence Dickerson (Firefly Books, 1998). Amateur astronomers of all levels benefit from Dickerson's thoughtful and comprehensive examination of the pastime. Chapters cover learning the night sky, telescopes and their accessories, planetary studies, and the composition of the universe. Basic star charts in the back have extremely helpful descriptions of key objects printed adjacent to symbols of the object.

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