The Five Astronaut Autobiographies Everyone Should Read

Categories: NASA

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Riding Rockets: Raunchy, raucous and funny.
Astronaut autobiographies can be a very mixed bag. On the one hand, that should be surprising given the harrowing, thrilling life-and-death stories which are inherent; on the other hand, the authors are generally not very good writers.

And even if they are working with ghost writers, the ability to eloquently and entertainingly describe what it's like to be shot like a bullet into the most harsh environment imaginable is not high on the skill list that can move someone up the astronaut ladder into a coveted flight spot.

Perhaps the epitome of this is First Man, not technically an autobiography but a completely authorized biography of Neil Armstrong. Putting aside the whole moon thing, Armstrong engaged in Korean War dogfights and flew some of the most dangerous experimental jets ever built. But this ultra-dry book dares you to read it with such arcana as seemingly listing every grade he got in flight school.

All is not hopeless, though. Here are five astronaut autobiographies everyone should read:

5. Riding Rockets: The Outrageous Tales of a Space Shuttle Astronaut by Mike Mullane
Mary Roach's funny "Packing for Mars," a look at what happens to the mind and body in space, says if you read just one astronaut autobiography, it should be this one. We disagree, but Riding Rockets is definitely worth picking up. While it's a little too swaggering, Mullane writes bluntly about such things as every astronaut staring daggers at an eager-beaver John Denver, visiting NASA as a potential shuttle passenger. Denver expected to be greeted like a star, not realizing a flight by him would be one less seat available for the people he was meeting, and there's nothing those people hated more than losing a flight chance.

Mullane was widely rumored to have had an affair with colleague Judith Resnik. He denies it here, but the passionate and intimate way he writes about her won't exactly convince everyone.

4. Off the Planet: Surviving Five Perilous Months Aboard the Space Station Mir, by Jerry Linenger
Bryan Burrough's Dragonfly terrifically describes life aboard the antiquated Russian space station Mir as it neared the end of its service life and became something close to a deathtrap. Astronaut Jerry Linenger doesn't have Burrough's narrative gifts, but he does have the advantage of having lived through one of the two most gripping Mir episodes, an onboard fire, and in Off the Planet he does a solid job of relating the tale.

Linenger doesn't stint in criticism of NASA and Mission Control, claiming higher-ups tried to cover up near-disasters and all but lied to the men on Mir.


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