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How to Make a Spaceship: A Band of Renegades, an Epic Race, and the Birth of Private Spaceflight Hardcover – September 20, 2016
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“If you admire those who aim really high, How to Make a Spaceship belongs on your bookshelf. [It] offers a rousing anthem to the urge to explore.” —Wall Street Journal
“Guthrie has a gift of building suspense around these airborne incidents of inherent drama—such as a balloon flight gone wildly wrong that ends in a botched parachute jump—as well as larger questions about space, technology and life’s purpose . . . How to Make a Spaceship is . . . ultimately flight-worthy and impressively ambitious. When the history of 21st century American space efforts is written decades or centuries from now, this book will be a valuable contemporary record of what it was like when humanity was trying to break out of its home.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“[How to Make a Spaceship] reads like a thriller. The story sounds incredible, as if torn from the pages of science fiction. And it has a happy ending. But as with all entrepreneurial ventures, nothing went according to plan: It was riddled with failure and disappointment; ugly battles broke out between friends and founders; the world often looked like it was coming to an end; and Diamandis had to gamble everything he had.” —Vivkek Wadhwa, Washington Post
“[How to Make a Spaceship] includes enough death-defying stunts, madcap schemes, wild coincidences, and rousing redemptive moments to fuel a dozen Hollywood blockbusters.” —Wired.com
“Ms. Guthrie’s tale is sometimes tragic, but ultimately it is an uplifting one that will appeal to adventure junkies as well as to those who prize free-market solutions to monumental challenges.” —Wall Street Journal
“If readers are looking for scientific discussions, humorous anecdotes, and intense action, Guthrie covers those. The flights are written to make readers feel like they’re experiencing them in real time, nerves and all.” —Publishers Weekly
“Engaging… Just the thing for aspiring astronauts and rocketeers.” —Kirkus
“I don’t know how Julian Guthrie does it. In her last book, she didn’t race in the America’s Cup, yet readers felt they had. And now in How to Make a Spaceship, although she wasn’t strapped into the cockpit of the first civilian spacecraft to rocket into outer space, her vivid writing places readers right there. With the flair of a novelist and the precision of a fine journalist, she takes readers on a journey not just into space but into the hearts and minds of the adventurers who dare go where NASA no longer does. Her tale will quicken your pulse.” —Ken Auletta, author of Googled: The End of the World as We Know It
“The story of Peter Diamandis is a reminder of the power of passion and persistence. How to Make a Spaceship chronicles the amazing journey of a key figure in the private race to space—a dreamer who, in the face of multiple setbacks and naysayers, simply refused to let go of his dream.” —Arianna Huffington, author, cofounder of The Huffington Post
“Too few kids and young adults understand the power of science and technology. We need role models demonstrating the power of passion and perseverance to make dreams come true. How to Make a Spaceship is filled with innovators and doers. The story will inspire makers of all ages.” —Dean Kamen, inventor, entrepreneur, founder of FIRST Robotics
“This incredible book is The Right Stuff with afterburners. Intrepid designers and innovators risk their reputations. Gutsy test pilots risk their lives. Explorers push new boundaries of what so many once thought was impossible. All brought together by a real gravity-defying force, Peter Diamandis. How to Make a Spaceship is required reading for anyone who cares about space, aviation, and the future of flight.” —Captain Mark Kelly (USN, Ret.), former naval aviator, test pilot, and NASA astronaut
“This outstanding and compelling book shows the power of one man’s vision, and the ability of small teams to accomplish extraordinary things. How to Make a Spaceship will inspire and guide you to take on your own Moonshot.” —Ray Kurzweil, Inventor, Author, Futurist and Chancellor, Singularity University
“[An] engaging account of the race to get a rocket up to the Karman line without getting NASA involved....Just the thing for aspiring astronauts and rocketeers.” —Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
Julian Guthrie is an award-winning journalist who spent twenty years at the San Francisco Chronicle and has been published by The Wall Street Journal, Time, The Huffington Post, and others. She is the author of The Billionaire and the Mechanic, a bestselling account of Oracle CEO Larry Ellison’s pursuit of the America’s Cup, and of The Grace of Everyday Saints, the story of the longest parish protest in Catholic America.
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Spaceflight is a hard, dangerous and challenging endeavor. Putting payloads and/or people into Earth orbit or beyond requires the exquisite management and control of titanic forces, explosive energies and hostile environments that are uniquely unforgiving of the slightest fault in design, manufacturing, materials or operations.
Years ago, I watched with mild bemusement as start-up companies founded by tech-billionaire entrepreneurs piled onto the private spaceflight bandwagon. Only a few survived the inevitable shakeout when their visionary dreams collided with harsh reality, and I never expected much to come of their efforts.
But I was wrong—sort of.
Commercial launch vehicles developed by some of these private companies now soar into orbit regularly, carrying cargo to resupply the International Space Station. Meanwhile NASA sits on the sidelines and buys seats for its astronauts in Russian Soyuz spacecraft, which currently are the only way crews can get to and from the ISS. The Orion program, NASA’s latest attempt to restore America’s indigenous manned spaceflight capability post-Shuttle, is a political football and a perennial target of the Congressional budget ax. Even if Orion doesn’t get killed off, its first flight isn’t scheduled until 2023—TWELVE years after program inception. Compare that to the 1960’s. The first manned lunar landing took place only eight years after the Apollo Program started—and, unlike Orion, Apollo had no previous technological base to draw on and suffered an 18-month delay caused by the tragic deaths of astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee in the Apollo 1 launch pad fire. Today, whether because of failure of imagination, lack of organizational courage, uncertain funding or dwindling public support, human spaceflight in the only nation that ever sent humans to explore another celestial body is in a sad state of affairs.
But I was also right, in a way.
As yet NO private spacecraft have flown paying civilian passengers into orbit, or even on quick up-and-down suborbital ballistic hops. So, while private unmanned spaceflight is indeed now a viable enterprise, private manned spaceflight remains an elusive ambition.
“How to Make a Spaceship,” an advance review copy of which I received through the Amazon Vine program, tells selected parts of the little-known (at least to me) story behind some of the entrepreneurial efforts to succeed in private manned spaceflight.
The book is not a technical history, a detailed spaceflight treatise or a handbook on how anyone can cobble together a rocket in their garage. Most of it focuses on Peter Diamandis, indefatigable space enthusiast and originator of the $10,000,000 XPRIZE, an award intended to stimulate the development of private manned spacecraft as the $25,000 Orteig Prize stimulated long-range aviation in the 1920s. Diamandis devoted years on Herculean fund-raising efforts to bankroll the prize, and author Julian Guthrie chronicles those efforts in detail. As such, there is not much of the nuts-and-bolts of rocketry that space geeks and geekettes might crave. Rather, the book is heavy on personalities, human inspiration and financial and legalistic dealings.
“How to Make a Spaceship” skillfully weaves together the intersecting stories of Diamandis and his like-minded business partners, airplane builder Burt Rutan, Erik Lindbergh (grandson of THAT Lindbergh), Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, Virgin Atlantic founder Richard Branson and many others in a fascinating, often day-by-day look at how private spaceflight eventually got off the ground. It is an extremely well written and compelling story, with straightforward prose and you-are-there details that convey a strong sense of intimacy and immediacy.
While there are not as many technical “nits” as I would like about the various private spacecraft developed in response to the XPRIZE, “How to Make a Spaceship” contains enough refreshingly accurate “rocket science” to complement the story of personalities and programmatics and create a well-balanced picture of how private manned spaceflight got to where it is today.
The story took a tragic turn on October 31, 2014, when Burt Rutan’s SpaceShipTwo, an air-launched rocket plane intended to carry paying passengers on suborbital hops to altitudes above 62.8 miles, crashed on a test flight. The long-term effect of this disaster on the future of private manned spaceflight is unclear, but some of the luster is now clearly gone from what many enthusiasts and entrepreneurs once saw as the next step in humanity’s conquest of space.
No matter what becomes of the dreams of these space pioneers, “How to Make a Spaceship” is an outstanding, highly readable and very accessible story. I recommend it highly.
For those that don’t know, SpaceShipOne is a spacecraft that completed the first manned private spaceflight in 2004. That same year, it won the US$10 million Ansari X Prize. SpaceShipOne now hangs in the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C.
SpaceShipOne was designed by Burt Rutan. And it was Burt Rutan’s confident leadership, engineering prowess, creative genius, and simple wackiness that propelled Burt’s small renegade team to achieve one of the biggest world news stories of that year.
I know…. I was part of that team.
I joined Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites in 1988. I was hired in to be Scaled’s first structural analyst using FEM (Finite Element Methods) which is an advanced way of computer simulating aerospace structures to determine stress and stiffness. By the time the SpaceShipOne program started, I was selected to be the structural lead.
As deftly described in the book and the documentary “Black Sky”, tension was at a level I had never experienced before on any Scaled Composites program. There was a general consensus that Burt had lost his marbles when he suggested to his small team of maybe 12 engineers that we could go from building subsonic propeller and jet aircraft to building a spacecraft that would go 3+ times the speed of sound and, oh yeah, go to suborbital space. But first, we would have to build the mothership, White Knight (WK), which will carry and launch SpaceShipOne at about 45,000 ft.
Another benefit to a small team is that we were highly motivated to perform to the best of our abilities. This struck home one day when I saw the wife to one of SpaceShipOne’s test pilots. I clearly understood that I did not want to face a day where I might have to tell her that her husband died because of a mistake I made. The SpaceShipOne team was close knit.
Engineers are naturally skeptical since they clearly understand the risks. But Burt eventually won his team over by methodically describing how we would mitigate those risks by first building WK using the identical cabin design and most of the systems that SpaceShipOne would use. It was a BRILLIANT way to build confidence by continually testing identical hardware on the mothership, WK.
Flight test were equally well thought out by Burt. First flight tests were simply “captive carry” by carrying SpaceShipOne to altitude only. This was followed by drop tests allowing SpaceShipOne to simply glide back to landing and to test the unique feather deployment design. Eventually, flight tests were concluded with rocket powered flights that won the US$10 million Ansari X Prize.
The level of painstaking detailed research that Julian Guthrie put into writing this book is obvious to me as an “insider”. I cannot find any errors or anything I would have changed. And it filled in a lot of the missing background story that I did not know that ultimately led to our successful climax. Wonderful job Julian!!!