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Rocketeers: How a Visionary Band of Business Leaders, Engineers, and Pilots is Boldly Privatizing Space Paperback – July 29, 2008
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About the Author
Michael Belfiore is one of only a handful of freelance journalists covering commercial spaceflight. Born in 1969—the year Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong walked on the moon—Belfiore has always been fascinated by space travel. He lives with his family in Woodstock, New York.
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Nevertheless it is an inspiring story about a small group of entrepreneurs who propose to open the high frontier of space for commerce, and incidentally for everyone who is not a highly paid, highly trained employee of some government.
The subtext of Rocketeers, besides the dramatic stories of risk takers and dreamers building their own rockets, is a kind of wistfulness, bordering sometimes on anger on a future that never came to pass. Though Belfiore was busily being born in 1969, the year of Apollo 11, he shares the feeling that many of a certain age has experienced from time to time. It's the twenty first century, and where are those colonies on the Moon and interplanetary space liners we were promised.
The reasons that future has not yet come to pass are many and complex, but many people, perhaps overly simplistically, blame NASA. The agency that was once toasted as the organization that took men to the Moon in eight short years is not regularly excoriated as being a bloated, unimaginative, and often incompetent bureaucracy. It is an image, considering what has happened since Apollo, that NASA has helped bring on itself and will have a hard time (some suggest impossible time) overcoming.
No matter, say the heroes depicted in Rocketeers. If NASA can't bring about the future of a space faring civilization, we shall do it ourselves.
Belfoire leaps effortlessly from story to story. Here is Peter Diamandis, who conceived and wrought the X Prize to build and launch into space the first private space craft. Here is Burt Rutan, master builder of air craft who won the X Prize with his SpaceShipOne and thus made commercial space almost respectable. Here is Elon Musk, the South African born Internet magnate who proposes to be the Prince Henry the Navigator of the space age by building his own fleet of low cost rockets as well as a manned space ship in partnership with NASA. And here is Robert Bigelow, the Los Vegas hotel tycoon whose interest in UFOs has inspired him to conceive and start to build the first private space station made from inflatable modules with technology first developed by NASA. And of course no story of the nascent commercial space sector can be complete without a look at Sir Richard Branson, a man who resembles nothing less than an Elizabethan Sea Dog whose Virgin Galactic proposes to be the first commercial space line.
Belfiore mentions in passing how even NASA, once very adverse to commercial space, has now embraced the swashbuckling entrepreneurs like Musk and Bigelow as partners and potential providers of services.
One curious omission in Rocketeers is its scant mention of commercial space efforts that occurred before the winning of the X Prize dating back to the 1970s. All of those early efforts failed for various reasons, but have proven nevertheless to be valuable lessons. The story of Otrag, Beal, the Rotary Rocket, and others deserves to be told.
Belfiore ends his book with a perhaps fanciful look at the world of 2034. NASA, once the alpha and omega of space flight in the Western World, is relegated to providing paying passengers to private space station in Low Earth Orbit or (perhaps, though it is mentioned in passing) being part of the crew of a private/public expedition to Mars. The private sector in that year dominates space flight. Real life will probably not match exactly Belifoire's imagination, but one suspects that in certain aspects at least it will resemble it greatly, through no little credit to the people he writes about in Rocketeers.
human interest narrative about some of the exciting people and companies
involved in America's burgeoning private space industry: the X Prize,
Burt Rutan, Virgin Galactic, Elon Musk, Robert Bigelow and a few others.
I thought the best chapters were about Burt Rutan and winning the
XPrize, in particular the blow by blow account of all the troubles they
had, very edge of the seat; also the backgrounds of Elon Musk and Robert
Bigelow. As a journalistic work it is ephemeral and will be outdated
(except as a source for later writers) but if your fascinated by
the events, people and rocket ships, this is an excellent overview valuable right now,
it's still too early to write the history. Belfiore writes for a number of periodicals like
Popular Science, Wired, New Scientists, and claims to be one of only a
few who are covering this exciting new industry, so he will certainly be
an author to watch in the years ahead.
Most recent customer reviews
write "Rocketeers 2.0" real soon. Looking forward to following his career as a free-lance author.Read more