Ground Control to Waterstones: Tim Peake Picks 5 Books to Take to Space
You probably won’t be surprised to learn that space comes at a premium when you are traveling in a Soyuz spacecraft and living on board the International Space Station. As a consequence, packing a suitcase full of books for a 6-month mission unfortunately isn’t an option. However, as a book lover I was delighted to learn that in space astronauts can read e books, or (more commonly) listen to audiobooks. We have a crew support team on the ground that will, amongst many other things, send e books, podcasts, news articles, music files and even TV programmes via the communications data link up to the space station, if requested.
I didn’t read as much as I wanted to whilst in space, mainly because what limited free time I had at the weekends and evenings was spent taking photographs of Earth or calling friends and family. Whilst exercising, I would often catch up on the news or listen to podcasts (The Infinite Monkey Cage with Brian Cox and Robin Ince being one of my favourites, or the Chris Evans Breakfast Show). However, I did take an original hard copy of Yuri Gagarin’s autobiography, Road to the Stars, with me. This book belongs to Helen Sharman and was signed by Gagarin himself, along with Helen’s crew during their mission to the Mir space station in 1991. I can’t think of a better choice of book to read whilst in space ‐ it was a real honour to be able to borrow this book from Helen, and a memorable experience reading it up there. Having visited two separate space stations and completed well over 3000 orbits of planet Earth - this may now be the best travelled book of all time!
However, if I was stranded in space, I would probably use different criteria for selecting my reading choices! I would choose books that make me laugh, that inspire me, and books about human endeavour that might just help keep me alive. So below are five of my favourite books to pass the time amidst the stars and the vacuum of space. For any budding astronaut out there, I highly recommend them. After all, the first person to walk on Mars may well be reading this.
The Martian by Andy Weir
Brilliantly funny and at the same time one of the most scientifically plausible fiction books I have read about space exploration. I see a lot of Mark Watney's character in the astronauts and cosmonauts of today - Andy Weir hit the nail on the head in capturing the essence of what will be the 'right stuff' needed on a mission to Mars.
In the Shadow of the Moon by Francis French and Colin Burgess
A brilliant book that captures the human element behind the golden age of space exploration. Reading it makes you feel a part of the extraordinary missions that accomplished one of humanity's greatest achievements...setting foot on the moon.
Wind Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Don't be fooled into thinking this is just a book about flying - it's one of the most beautifully told stories of what makes life worth living. I loved every page.
Chickenhawk by Robert Mason
I read this as a young pilot about to embark on a career flying military helicopters. It should have put me off for life. Robert Mason tells a gripping account of the relentless courage and heroism amidst the insanity of the Vietnam war. The final few pages are the most shocking I have read in any book.
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
An extraordinary account of what humans are capable of, both good and bad, when pushed to the absolute limit.