Happy 60th Anniversary, NASA!

NASA books

by Ashley Kuehl, Executive Editor of Trade YA Nonfiction

Who’s having a birthday next week? Our very own national space agency, that’s who! As of October 1, the National Aeronautics and Space Agency (more commonly known as NASA) has been in existence sixty years (#NASA60th, yay!). They’re posting lots of fun photos and videos to celebrate the big 6-0, and because Lerner really loves its top 10 lists these days, I thought I’d pull together a top five list of unexpected challenges, surprises, and delights in making books related to space.

Women in space challenge #1: Sifting through potential NASA subjects for STEM Trailblazer Biographies.

Are there any photos of this person that we can use in our book? Or are they mostly unknown outside of being geniuses in their fields and we will have to track them down to ask for childhood pictures while they’re doing field work (possibly in actual outer space) and don’t have access to the internet?
Oh, this is not a challenge that will derail us. Because we have a team of astute editors, photo editors, designers, and production designers, you can check out our bio of NASA Mathematician Katherine Johnson, one of the original “human computers” at NASA, for instance. Other astronaut/space scientist/space engineer titles in our STEM Trailblazer Biographies series include Aerospace Engineer Aprille Ericsson, Astronaut Ellen Ochoa, and more!

9781512457032fc_Large.jpg L 9781467757935 fc L 9781512451016 fc

Women in space challenge #2: Lego assembly projects.


Last year, Lego released a set of bricks known as Women of NASA. One of my colleagues bought her own set, but didn’t quite have the time or inclination to assemble it. So I, of course, volunteered my family, who LOVE building with Lego. My trusting colleague let me take home her brand-new set, which was on backorder at the time.

I’m not going to lie. There was a period when we completely lost the assembled Margaret Hamilton figure, but she eventually turned up in the very safe hiding place of my daughter’s bookshelf, miraculously undisturbed by the destructive force of my son, who was almost two at the time. MH made it back to the office to live out her Lego life free from teething toddler jaws.

Cover challenge, part 1: black holes.

Oh boy, let’s not even mention this topic in front of our art director, ok? Because we already know what she’s going to say. “So, what did you have in mind for the cover of this book? Are you thinking an artist’s rendering? Something else?” Editors, you see, think in word and idea concepts, while designers must imagine these concepts visually. And since no one’s ever actually SEEN a black hole, things become tricky when we move from word ideas to visual ideas. But because our design and photo research teams are geniuses, we did, in fact, make some excellent black holes books with fab covers. I present as evidence Exhibits A, B, and C:

L 9780761380184 fc L 9781512427943 fc L 9781512448634 fc 

Cover challenge, part 2: planets.

Why yes, I have noticed that NASA has been releasing vast quantities of gorgeous space photography in the past few years. But if we have eight books in a series on planets, how to make each of those covers in the Searchlight BooksTM: Discover Planets series distinct and intriguing? Should they all be close-up images of the planet? A mix of close up and far away? A blend of photos and artistic renderings? Here are a few of the final covers. How do you think they turned out?

S 9781541523371 fc S 9781541527904 fc S 9781541523401 fc L 9781541527898 fc

Again with the amazing imagery. 

How can we use these images in a book? Can we plan titles specifically to feature these amazing pictures? Answer: not exactly, but we can probably find a way to fit them in somewhere.

Exploring the Eagle Nebula and the Pillars of CreationImage credit: NASA/CXC/INAF/M.Guarcello et al.; Optical: NASA/STScI
Our Sun
“Behold! Observing the Sun” Image Credit: NASA/GSFC/Solar Dynamics Observatory
“95 minutes over Jupiter” from NASA’s image gallery


Check out NASA’s website and social media for more glorious birthday celebrations. And keep an eye out in the next few months for even more awesome new space books from Lerner Publications.

More posts by Ashley are here.


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