2021: A Space Hotness (And Honesty) Odyssey

A brief year in review, and gift recommendations for upcoming holidays.

“This sunset on Mars was captured by NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover using its Mastcam-Z camera system on Nov. 9, 2021, the 257th Martian day, or sol, of the mission.” Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

Space became hot again this year, with historic launches from SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic seemingly happening every time you checked your phone for the latest news. In addition, interplanetary missions didn’t fail to awe space enthusiasts this year — who can forget the incredible landing of the Mars Perseverance Rover in February? And it’s not over yet — in a few days, the much-awaited James Webb Space Telescope, a NASA-ESA-CSA project in the making for decades, will launch aboard an Ariane 5 rocket from Kourou, French Guiana. We celebrated anniversaries including the 50th anniversary of Apollo 15, and the 40th anniversary of STS-1, the Space Shuttle program’s inaugural launch. I would argue that 2021 has been one of the biggest space years since 1966, the year the United States’ two-person Gemini program went from milestone to milestone, and the Apollo program’s Saturn IB was first launched successfully.

I’ve compiled a brief list of my spaceflight book recommendations* from 2021, and will end with other meandering thoughts to hopefully sum up a momentous year.

Amazing Space Books To Gift:

A Long Voyage to the Moon: The Life of Naval Aviator and Apollo 17 Astronaut Ron Evans, by Geoffrey Bowman (University of Nebraska Press)

Back to Earth: What Life in Space Taught Me About Our Home Planet — And Our Mission to Protect It, by Nicole Stott (Seal Press)

Humanizing Space: The Life of Gerard K. O’Neill, by Dylan Taylor with John Desimone (Multiverse Publishing) (Note: Taylor just completed a suborbital spaceflight aboard Blue Origin’s NS-19 mission.)

Picturing the Space Shuttle: The Early Years, by J.L. Pickering and John Bisney (University of Florida Press)

Shuttle Mission Control: Flight Controller Stories and Photos, 1981–1992, by Marianne Dyson

The Light of Earth: Reflections on a Life in Space, by Al Worden and Francis French (University of Nebraska Press)

Through the Glass Ceiling to the Stars: The Story of the First American Woman to Command a Space Mission, by Col. Eileen M. Collins (USAF, Retired) with Jonathan Ward (Arcade)

Wonders All Around: The Incredible Story of Astronaut Bruce McCandless II and the First Untethered Flight in Space, by Bruce McCandless III (Greenleaf Book Group)

*Author’s note: if I didn’t include your book on my list, it doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it!

Thanks For Allowing Me To Go Nuts This Year

I started The Making of an Ex-Nuke (the title a grateful nod to the 1970 book by Brian O’Leary) in January with a couple of goals. First, I wanted to see if I could do well on the Medium platform — and I did. Thanks to my readers, I am now one of its top space writers. Sincerely, I thank you all for your support (or non-support? I know some of you out there didn’t like what I wrote, but thank you for reading it anyway). Second, I wanted a place to put more personal writing that wouldn’t fit on my National Space Society blog.

Being able to finally speak truth to power has really helped me throughout this year of transitions — it bears mentioning that this year I changed jobs, and completed my first year of sobriety. While I’m aware that not everyone appreciated my points of view, I am grateful to Medium that I have a place to put them.

For all of you who did appreciate what I had to say, many, many thanks — and I’m not stopping in 2022.



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Emily Carney

Emily Carney

Space historian and podcaster. Space Hipster. Named one of the Top Ten Space Influencers by the National Space Society. Co-host of Space and Things podcast.