Somewhere along the line I forgot about outer space. Like many kids who grew up in an urban area, experiencing the beauty of the night’s sky meant driving into the city, passing under an oddly-orange firmament where ‘stars’ usually turned out to be planes, to go to the planetarium. There, among the laser effects and synth-heavy space funk, I became enthralled with the idea of traveling to distant planets (our visits probably also laid the groundwork for my high school rave years). Being raised watching Doctor Whosealed the deal. This lasted until I was about 10, when I realized that my fear of heights, going fast, and flying would pretty much ruin any aspirations I had of reaching for the stars. Once the dream became impossible, it seemed acceptable to forget I ever had it.
Thankfully for the rest of the world space exploration carried on, and amazing things were accomplished. We have robots sending us beautiful images (and data) from Mars, while private corporations are currently discussing sending people (and reality shows) to that same red planet. We have interstellar probes, launched before I was even born, that are about to pass out of the solar system. At this moment, astronauts from three different countries are living and working in the massive International Space Station that is hurtling around the planet miles above our heads.
When you take the time to remember outer space, you realize how far we’ve come in understanding it, and how far we’re about to go in continuing that research. There are scores of great books written about space and space exploration, so I felt it would be appropriate to make a reading list for anyone who wanted to be an armchair astronaut with me.
One of the best parts about being in the Pacific Northwest is that you’re never too far from wilderness, and the amazing star-gazing it affords you.The Monthly Sky Guide by Ian Ridpath and Wil Tirion is an easy to use, very portable book that you can take along on camping trips to help you learn about all the beautiful activity going on above you.
As mentioned in a couple of our Facebook posts, Neil deGrasse Tyson is someone you should know if you don’t already. Tyson is as influential and likable a celebrity for astrophysics as Bill Nye is for science education, or Michael Pollan is for botany. For two very enjoyable and accessible reads about the history of the universe, and where mankind’s place is in it, I’d recommend Origins and Space Chronicles.
To look into the past, present, and future of humans in space, Pale Blue Dot by Carl Sagan is a classic. This book is full of beautiful illustrations and thought-provoking chapters that read like sci-fi.
If you’re like me, and you want a little bit of anthropology mixed in with your space (I know, weird), look no further than Moon: a Brief History by Bernard Brunner. This book takes a look at the mythology and symbolism that has developed around the Moon, and combines it with what we know scientifically about our closest neighbor in space.
Finally, for mourning fans of debased Pluto, there’s How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming by Mike Brown. Written by the astronomer who made the discovery that inadvertently dethroned Pluto as a planet, this book gives the reader a humorous and enlightening explanation of one of the stranger recent events in astronomy.
I hope this list has inspired you, as Jack Horkheimer always urged me as a kid, to “keep looking up!”