Space shuttle docked with the International Space Station.

Space shuttle docked with the International Space Station.

If you’re a space junkie, you’ll love NASA’s History Series. It’s an online collection of books, monographs, photographs and diagrams that detail the development of space flight.  You’ll forgive them if it’s United States centered.  The books have been collected and put online over the past decade, so not all of them are in a handy format and some can be read only online – but many have been out of print for decades and now exist only there.

You can learn about all sorts of things, like how they figured out how to feed space travelers, what the Soviet Union was doing about exploring the planet Mars  and conference notes on live elsewhere in the universe from 1979.  There are even historical treasures there, like The Smell of Kerosene: A Test Pilot’s Odessey, by test pilot Donald L. Mallick.  Sound dry?  Try this:

I line up for takeoff squarely on runway centerline, with nearly three miles of concrete in front of me. As I push the throttles forward, the afterburners
ignite almost simultaneously. I advance the throttles to maximum and the engines pour blue fire out through the exhaust ejectors. The Blackbird eats
up runway as I let the speed build. At 210 knots indicated airspeed, I pull back gently on the stick and separate the Blackbird and myself from Mother Earth…

Or how about Apollo Over the Moon: A View from Orbit? Imagine what it was like to be there, knowing that you were the first creature from your planet ever to leave it to visit another astronomical body, even for a short while? What a profound experience that must have been, and how it changed our society is the subject of monographs in the historical archive as well.

While a lot of the publications are admittedly as exciting as reading somebody else’s shopping list, sprinkled throughout are personal accounts of the early days of space travel and what it’s like to be a pioneer and push the limits of human experience.  Even if you’re not a hardcore space travel enthusiast, this archive is worth a look.

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