NASA Celebrates 56 Years This Month!

In 1957, the former Soviet Union became the first nation to launch a satellite into orbit. The launch of Sputnik marked the dawn of the Space Age and prompted the United States to create the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Since NASA’s founding in 1958, its accomplishments have enhanced our knowledge of the world and the universe.  Check out books like these from the Mercer County Library System to learn more about the “final frontier”:

Dreams of Other Worlds: The Amazing Story of Unmanned Space Exploration
By Chris Impey
Dreams of Other Worlds describes the unmanned space missions that have opened new windows on distant worlds. Spanning four decades of dramatic advances in astronomy and planetary science, this book tells the story of eleven iconic exploratory missions and how they have fundamentally transformed our scientific and cultural perspectives on the universe and our place in it. The journey begins with the Viking and Mars Exploration Rover missions to Mars, which paint a startling picture of a planet at the cusp of habitability. It then moves into the realm of the gas giants with the Voyager probes and Cassini's ongoing exploration of the moons of Saturn. The Stardust probe's dramatic round-trip encounter with a comet is brought vividly to life, as are the SOHO and Hipparcos missions to study the Sun and Milky Way. This stunningly illustrated book also explores how our view of the universe has been brought into sharp focus by NASA's great observatories--Spitzer, Chandra, and Hubble--and how the WMAP mission has provided rare glimpses of the dawn of creation. Dreams of Other Worlds reveals how these unmanned exploratory missions have redefined what it means to be the temporary tenants of a small planet in a vast cosmos.

“This richly illustrated work of remarkable scholarship spans the depths of the solar system, the Milky Way, and beyond, revealing how the great leaps forward in astronomy have brought into focus a landscape few could have imagined. The authors present a combination of hard science and edifying narrative that is both informative and entertaining. Recommended for both NASA "nerds" and anyone with even a passing interest in astronomy.”—Library Journal

Crowded Orbits: Conflict and Cooperation in Space
By James Clay Moltz
Space has become increasingly crowded since the end of the Cold War, with new countries, companies, and even private citizens operating satellites and becoming spacefarers. This book offers general readers a valuable primer on space policy from an international perspective. It examines the competing themes of space competition and cooperation while providing readers with an understanding of the basics of space technology, diplomacy, commerce, science, and military applications. The recent expansion of human space activity poses new challenges to existing treaties and other governance tools for space, increasing the likelihood of conflict over a diminishing pool of beneficial locations and resources close to Earth. Drawing on more than twenty years of experience in international space policy debates, James Clay Moltz examines possible avenues for cooperation among the growing pool of space actors, considering their shared interests in space traffic management, orbital debris control, division of the radio frequency spectrum, and the prevention of military conflict. Moltz concludes with policy recommendations for enhanced international collaboration in space situational awareness, scientific exploration, and restraining harmful military activities.

“Moltz has written a concise, accessible, and very timely account of the history of space development, and the possible futures we could build for ourselves.”—Publishers Weekly

Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space
By Lynn Sherr
The definitive biography of Sally Ride, America's first woman in space, with exclusive insights from Ride's family and partner, by the ABC reporter who covered NASA during its transformation from a test-pilot boys' club to a more inclusive elite. Sally Ride made history as the first American woman in space. A member of the first astronaut class to include women, she broke through a quarter-century of white male fighter jocks when NASA chose her for the seventh shuttle mission, cracking the celestial ceiling and inspiring several generations of women. After a second flight, Ride served on the panels investigating the Challenger explosion and the Columbia disintegration that killed all aboard. In both instances she faulted NASA's rush to meet mission deadlines and its organizational failures. She cofounded a company promoting science and education for children, especially girls. Sherr also writes about Ride's scrupulously guarded personal life-she kept her sexual orientation private-with exclusive access to Ride's partner, her former husband, her family, and countless friends and colleagues. Sherr draws from Ride's diaries, files, and letters. This is a rich biography of a fascinating woman whose life intersected with revolutionary social and scientific changes in America. Sherr's revealing portrait is warm and admiring but unsparing. It makes this extraordinarily talented and bold woman, an inspiration to millions, come alive.

“With the full cooperation of Ride's family and friends, both inside and outside of NASA (including ex-husband and fellow astronaut Steve Hawley), author Sherr pores over Ride's life, from her tennis-star childhood to her college years in the male-dominated field of physics and meteoric rise as America's first woman in space. As familiar as readers believe themselves to be with Ride's story, Sherr has done an impressive job of uncovering the pressures (and sometimes comical missteps) of NASA's macho culture and its approach to the first class of women astronauts, the unparalleled commitment Ride brought to her job, and the zeal with which she embraced her later challenge to broaden science opportunities for girls. This is an intimate and enormously appealing biography of a fascinating woman, a triumph of research and sensitivity that lives up to its subject and will likely move readers to tears in its final, poignant pages.”—Booklist (Starred Review)

 “In the end, Sherr provides a window into one of the most fascinating figures of the 20th century.”—Publishers Weekly

Wheels Stop: The Tragedies and Triumphs of the Space Shuttle Program, 1986-2011
By Rick Houston
Humanity's first reusable spacecraft and the most complex machine ever built, NASA's Space Shuttle debuted with great promise and as a dependable source of wonder and national pride. But with the Challenger catastrophe in 1986, the whole Space Shuttle program came into question, as did NASA itself, long an institution that was seemingly above reproach. Wheels Stop tells the stirring story of how, after the Challenger disaster, the Space Shuttle not only recovered but went on to perform its greatest missions. From the Return to Flight mission of STS-26 in 1988 to the last shuttle mission ever on STS-135 in 2011, Wheels Stop takes readers behind the scenes as the shuttle's crews begin to mend Cold War tensions with the former Soviet Union, conduct vital research, deploy satellites, repair the Hubble Space Telescope, and assist in constructing the International Space Station. It also tells the heart-wrenching story of the Columbia tragedy and the loss of the magnificent STS-107 crew. As complex as the shuttle was, the people it carried into orbit were often more so--and this is their story, too. Close encounters with astronauts, flight controllers, and shuttle workers capture the human side of the Space Shuttle's amazing journey--and invite readers along for the ride.

“Providing vicarious access to astronauts, Houston will attract the spaceflight set.”—Booklist

Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration
By Buzz Aldrin
“Since sharing the spotlight with Neil Armstrong during the first moon landing in 1969, Aldrin has made good use of his celebrity status to promote space exploration at every opportunity, appearing in films, lending his voice to a Simpsons episode, and even recording a rap song with Snoop Dogg to benefit his nonprofit foundation, ShareSpace. For his latest project, a book-length outline of, among other things, his vision for regular sojourns to Mars, Aldrin adopts a more sober tone. After a laudatory foreword by his son Andrew, Aldrin begins by calling for a new nongovernmental, U.S.-led space advisory group, then wholeheartedly endorses commercial space travel for paying passengers. He then lays out his blueprint for establishing a base on Mars involving a novel flexible path approach, with Mars' moon Phobos as a docking station. No one will consider Aldrin a first-rate author, even with help from veteran journalist David, but his ideas are undeniably provocative and guaranteed to stir controversy among both amateur and professional space-travel enthusiasts.”—Booklist

“Aldrin makes a daring proposal for further space exploration in this exciting glimpse of the new new frontier. . . . Starry-eyed kids and those old enough to remember the original Space Race will appreciate his enthusiastic vision.”—Publishers Weekly

“As the world watched in awe on July 20, 1969, Aldrin was the second Apollo astronaut to set foot on the moon. . . . He details his past accomplishments-his life before NASA, his years as an astronaut-and his current passions for further space exploration to Mars and beyond. Of particular interest, Aldrin talks about his trouble adjusting to life after his moon landing. In recent years he has been a strong advocate for a robust space program, as is evident here.  The author's human side is revealed as he movingly notes the death of Neil Armstrong with great grief. Readers can only imagine the uniqueness of their shared experiences. Recommended for NASA buffs and anyone interested in the future of space travel.”—Library Journal

Red Rover: Inside the Story of Robotic Space Exploration, From Genesis to the Mars Rover Curiosity
By Roger Wiens
“An engaging history of robotic space exploration. . . . . A remarkable memoir and testament to the ingenuity of the space program’s many scientists who build the tools needed to explore our solar system.”—Booklist

“Wiens offers a backstage tour of the delights and disappointments of working on missions."—Scientific American

“This entertaining insider account of Wiens’s work on two groundbreaking robotic space explorers—the Genesis and Curiosity Rover—captures all the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of modern space science . . . Wiens brings his work to life, candidly addressing the inevitable technological and bureaucratic obstacles and failures that compose the frustrating prelude to scientific victory.”—Publishers Weekly

“The author provides fascinating insight into the struggle to solve scientific problems despite technical constraints and equipment failures. . . . A winning memoir of great achievement.”—Kirkus Reviews

Gravity’s Engines: How Bubble-Blowing Black Holes Rule Galaxies, Stars, and Life in the Cosmos
By Caleb A. Scharf
“From descriptions in speculative fiction and science best-sellers by Stephen Hawking, most people harbor an image of black holes as star-swallowing, astronomical monsters that future space explorers would do best to avoid. According to astrophysicist Scharf, this bad reputation is long overdue for a makeover, given recent evidence suggesting that the massive, lightless objects may be vital to the proliferation of star systems like our own. As Scharf points out in this superbly accessible layman's guide to select exotic astronomical phenomena, black holes actually spew out large clouds of matter as much as they gobble it up. In nine captivating chapters with fanciful titles like The Feeding Habits of Nonillion Pound Gorillas, Scharf convincingly demonstrates that black holes are far more critical to stellar evolution than was previously believed and that life on Earth may have been impossible without them. Although astronomy buffs are the likely audience here, Scharf's breathtaking cosmic vision will appeal to anyone whose curiosity is aroused by gazing at a star-filled sky.”--Booklist

"Scharf's explanations are vivid and accessible, evoking the awe of cosmic grandeur in a way that's as humbling as it is fascinating.”—Publishers Weekly

“In the first three chapters, Scharf offers an excellent brief history of discoveries foundational to contemporary knowledge of black holes and includes interesting biographical sketches of scientists from John Michell to Albert Einstein to Edwin Salpeter, with many in between. Explanations are clear, e.g., his discussion of the components of Einstein's field equations. He makes apt use of metaphors and personification to describe "hungry" black holes of all sizes at the core of galaxies (including the rather small one at the center of the Milky Way), which devour matter and expel energy. Teen and adult fans of astronomy, as well as scientists looking for ways to explain black holes to nonscientists, will all enjoy this text.”—Library Journal

- Lisa S.


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