Space News
space history and artifacts articles

space history discussion forums

worldwide astronaut appearances

selected space history documents

NASA Special Publications
The NASA History Series Project Histories
by Donald Boggs

This article is the fourth in a series on NASA publications. Part One presented an overview of NASA Special Publications, emphasizing the General Publications (SP number <1000). Part Two provided an introduction to the Special Publications written under the auspices of the NASA History Office (SP-4000 series) and particularly on the category of Reference Works (SP-40XX). Part Three focused on the Management Histories (SP-41XX).

This article continues with the NASA History Office Project Histories (SP-42XX series). The titles and assigned SP numbers for this category appear below. The first 11 of these are covered in this article. SP-4012 and higher will be covered in Part Five. As with other NASA publications, the older of these are often seen in softbound editions, but were also released in hardbound in very limited press runs.

    Project Histories (SP-4200 Series)
(Click on SP to check availability)

SP-4201   Swenson, Loyd S., Jr., Grimwood, James M., and Alexander, Charles C. "This New Ocean: A History of Project Mercury" (1966 hardbound and soft bound; reprinted softbound in December 1980)
SP-4202   Green, Constance McLaughlin, and Lomask, Milton. "Vanguard: A History" (1970)
SP-4203   Hacker, Barton C., and Grimwood, James M. "On Shoulders of Titans: A History of Project Gemini" (1977 hardbound and soft bound; reprinted softbound in January 2002)
SP-4204   Benson, Charles D. and Faherty, William Barnaby. "Moonport: A History of Apollo Launch Facilities and Operations" (1978)
Benson, Charles D., and William Barnaby Faherty. "Gateway to the Moon: Building the Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex" softbound reprint of the first half of Moonport (University Press of Florida, March 2001).
Benson, Charles D., and William Barnaby Faherty. "Moon Launch! A History of the Saturn-Apollo Launch Operations" softbound reprint of the second half of Moonport (University Press of Florida, March 2001).
SP-4205   Brooks, Courtney G., Grimwood, James M., and Swenson, Loyd S., Jr. "Chariots for Apollo: A History of Manned Lunar Spacecraft" (1979)
SP-4206   Bilstein, Roger E. "Stages to Saturn: A Technological History of the Apollo/Saturn Launch Vehicles" (1980 hard and soft; reprinted softbound in 1996)
SP-4207   Not Published
SP-4208   Compton, W. David, and Benson, Charles D. "Living and Working in Space: A History of Skylab" (1983)
SP-4209   Ezell, Edward Clinton, and Ezell, Linda Neuman. "The Partnership: A History of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project" (1978)
SP-4210   Hall, R. Cargill. "Lunar Impact: A History of Project Ranger" (1977)
SP-4211   Newell, Homer E. "Beyond the Atmosphere: Early Years of Space Science" (1980)
SP-4212   Ezell, Edward Clinton, and Ezell, Linda Neuman. "On Mars: Exploration of the Red Planet, 1958-1978" (1984)
SP-4213   Pitts, John A. "The Human Factor: Biomedicine in the Manned Space Program to 1980" (1985)
SP-4214   Compton, W. David. "Where No Man Has Gone Before: A History of Apollo Lunar Exploration Missions" (1989)
SP-4215   Naugle, John E. "First Among Equals: The Selection of NASA Space Science Experiments" (1991)
SP-4216   Wallace, Lane E. "Airborne Trailblazer: Two Decades with NASA Langley's Boeing 737 Flying Laboratory" (1994)
SP-4217   Butrica, Andrew J. Editor. "Beyond the Ionosphere: Fifty Years of Satellite Communication" (1997)
SP-4218   Butrica, Andrew J. "To See the Unseen: A History of Planetary Radar Astronomy" (1996)
SP-4219   Mack, Pamela E. Editor. "From Engineering Science to Big Science: The NACA and NASA Collier Trophy Research Project Winners" (November 1998)
SP-4220   Reed, R. Dale, with Lister, Darlene. "Wingless Flight: The Lifting Body Story" (1997)
Reprinted as Reed, R. Dale, with Lister, Darlene. "Wingless Flight: The Lifting Body Story." (University Press of Kentucky, May 2002
SP-4221   Heppenheimer, T.A. "The Space Shuttle Decision: NASA's Quest for a Reusable Space Vehicle" (February 1999)
Reprinted as Heppenheimer, T.A. "Space Shuttle Decision, 1965-1972" (History of the Space Shuttle, Volume 1) (Smithsonian Institution Press, April 2002) along with the new volume Heppenheimer, T.A. "Development of the Space Shuttle, 1972-1981" (History of the Space Shuttle, Volume 2) (Smithsonian Institution Press, April 2002)
SP-4222   Hunley, J.D. Editor. "Toward Mach 2: The Douglas D-558 Program" (April 1999)
SP-4223   Swanson, Glen E. Editor. "'Before this Decade is Out...': Personal Reflections on the Apollo Program" (October 1999)
Reprinted as Swanson, Glen E. Editor. "'Before this Decade is Out...': Personal Reflections on the Apollo Program" (University Press of Florida, May 2002)
SP-2000-4224   Tomayko, James E. "Computers Take Flight: A History of NASA's Pioneering Digital Fly-by-Wire Project" (April 2000)
SP-2001-4225   Morgan, Clay. "Shuttle-Mir: The U.S. and Russia Share History's Highest Stage" (October 2001)
SP-2002-4226   Leary, William M. "'We Freeze to Please': A History of NACA/NASA's Icing Research Tunnel" (September 2002)
SP-2002-4227   Mudgway, Douglas J. "Uplink/Downlink: A History of the Deep Space Network" (February 2002)
  Matranga, Gene J., Calvin R. Jarvis, and C. Wayne Ottinger, with Darlene Lister. "History of the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle" (March 2003)
  "Separating the Real from the Imagined: Flight Research at the NACA and NASA, 1915-2000"
  "To Reach the High Frontier: Case Studies in Launch Vehicle History"
  Dawson, Virginia P., and Mark D. Bowles. "Centaur: The Biography of a Knowledge Rocket" (January 2003)
  "A History of NACA/NASA Hypersonic Research Program"
  "High Speed Dreams: A History of NASA's Supersonic Transport"
  "The Social Construction of the Space Shuttle"

The SP-42XX series is composed of histories of various NASA projects and is perhaps the series of most interest to readers and collectors as it offers the official NASA histories of Projects Mercury, Gemini and Apollo among others.

The series was inaugurated in 1966 with "This New Ocean: A History of Project Mercury" (NASA SP-4201), written by Loyd Swenson, Jr., James Grimwood and Charles Alexander. Grimwood was Johnson Space Center historian at the time. The title of the book came from President John F. Kennedy's address at Rice University in Houston where he spoke about sailing "on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained...".

"This New Ocean" is a strong, comprehensive work including a 100 page section on the lure of space, examining space literature, aeronautics, rocket research and the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. Parts two and three of the book speak to the development of Project Mercury and operations. Seven appendices contain information on functional organization, workflow, organizational flow charts, flight data, personnel growth costs, and the Project Mercury tracking net. The book is well illustrated with 50 or more black and white photos of all aspects of Project Mercury.

It was four years until the next volume in this series was published, "Vanguard- A History" (NASA SP-4202) by Constance McLaughlin Green and Milton Lomask. Interestingly, Charles Lindbergh wrote the foreword to this volume, giving tribute to Robert Goddard. The volume is an excellent history of the Vanguard project, the United States' second satellite in space, including onboard experiments, instrumentation, tracking systems and test firings.

Another seven years elapsed until the publication of SP-4203, "On the Shoulders of Titans; A History of Project Gemini" by Barton Hacker and James Grimwood. The oft overlooked intermediate step to the Moon between Mercury and Apollo received excellent treatment. Of particular interest to enthusiasts are the lesser known aspects and programs related to Gemini, the Air Force Manned Orbiting Laboratory, Dyna-Soar, the paraglider and various lunar orbiting and lander concepts. The book is well illustrated with both black and white photos and a number of color plates.

After "Titans," the publishing pace accelerated. "Moonport: A History of Apollo Launch Facilities and Operations" (NASA SP-4204) by Charles Benson and William Faherty was published in 1978. "Moonport" was the first of six volumes in this series specifically on Project Apollo.

This is perhaps the scarcest of the NASA history publications and extremely difficult to find in hardback. Fortunately, it has been republished by the University Press of Florida in two volumes, "Gateway to the Moon" and "Moon Launch!"

"Moonport" is physically notable for its beige cover rather than the traditional navy blue of the other early manned spaceflight histories. It provides excellent coverage of the development of Kennedy Space Center facilities for the Saturn V and Project Apollo. This was a huge undertaking in some ways equivalent in difficulty to the more obvious Moon flights.

The authors also effectively examined the operational challenges of Project Apollo at the Cape, including the Apollo 204 fire. This section includes the story of Thomas Baron, a North American employee, who expressed severe concerns about the Apollo Command Module before the fire. All in all, it's a great volume with Appendices covering launches of the Saturn I and IB, launch complex 39, the Apollo 9 and 14 countdowns and the Apollo 11 LC-39 processing.

The fifth book of the NASA Project Histories is "Chariots for Apollo: A History of Manned Lunar Spacecraft" (NASA SP-4205) by Courtney Brooks, James Grimwood and Loyd Swenson, Jr.

Unfortunately, this volume is often confused for the book "Chariots for Apollo: The Untold Story Behind the Race to the Moon" by Charles Pellegrino and Joshua Stoff. Although this trade publication is filled with entertaining anecdotes, it is not nearly the academic work that NASA's "Chariots" comprises.

"Chariots" (SP-4205) covers the development and operation of the command, service and lunar modules through the Apollo 11 flight. The authors contributed one of the strongest volumes in the NASA history series. Well illustrated with over 50 black and white photos, our only regret is that it does not include the later lunar flights with the lunar rover.

"Stages to Saturn: A Technological History of the Apollo/Saturn Launch Vehicles" (NASA SP-4206) was written by Roger Bilstein and published in 1980. The emphasis of course is on the Saturn series of launch vehicles. Bilstein compiled a top notch treatise on the development of the H-1, F-1, RL-10 and J-2 engines as well as the broader launch vehicle. Also covered are the trials of design and testing. Appendices include a schematic of the Saturn V, the prelaunch-launch sequence, Saturn flight history and contractors. Over 50 black and white photos complete the volume.

The NASA History Office, for reasons unknown to us, did not publish a NASA SP-4207. This number was no doubt reserved for a title, but was never delivered.

Beginning with NASA SP-4208, "Living and Working in Space: A History of Skylab," the History Office moved away from the conservative deep blue cover with gold text to a more contemporary look. Authored by W. David Compton and Charles Benson, "Living and Working" examines the rich Apollo Applications program that yielded the United States' first space station. The book is thorough, examining other space station proposals beginning in 1962 and through the deorbit and breakup of Skylab.

"The Partnership: A History of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project" (NASA SP-4209) by Edward Ezell and Linda Neuman Ezell is interesting because the Ezells began note taking for this volume while ASTP was underway. In the preface they note that much of the research is based upon oral "histories" because they sat in on so many meetings and read many participants mail! What emerges from the effort is a nice volume on a space effort that was as much political as technological. ASTP is covered well from the Cold War spirit of the 1950s through splashdown.

R. Cargill Hall's "Lunar Impact: A History of Project Ranger" (NASA SP-4210) was published in 1977. Project Ranger was, of course, an important step toward eventual manned flights to the Moon. It followed a troubled path that included Congressional investigations into failed probes. Hall managed to tell not only the technological history, but also a story of working relationships. This is an excellent volume that is unfortunately sometimes overlooked in favor of the books on manned spaceflight.

In 1980, NASA defined the project history as being broader than a single program. "Beyond the Atmosphere; Early Years of Space Science" (NASA SP-4211) was the result. Authored by Homer Newell, the book covers the gamut of space science from upper atmosphere research to satellite geodesy, but Newell also managed to explore administrative issues at NASA, the question of whether the Jet Propulsion Laboratory was an insider or outsider and international ties in the area of space science. There is something here for everyone.

Part Five will cover SP-4012 through the end of the SP-42XX series. This is a rich series and as the table above shows, there are several more works to be published soon.

Future resource guides on NASA Special Publications will include the other NASA History books, New Series in NASA History, NASA Educational Publications, Reference Publications and Conference Publications.

back to collectSPACE

© 2022 All rights reserved.
Questions? E-mail
Donald Boggs is the owner of Boggs SpaceBooks, an Internet based used bookstore carrying new and used books on the history of space exploration. He has a Ph.D. from Kent State University in the area of Communication. He has also produced and directed over 400 television programs many for broadcast around the world and has traveled to almost 50 countries. He has been enamored with the space program since, as a child of 8, he nervously watched Alan Shepard launch (not blast-off) into space.