how to make a spaceship
THE HISTORIC RACE THAT REAWAKENED THE PROMISE OF MANNED SPACEFLIGHT
BY JULIAN GUTHRIE
BY JULIAN GUTHRIE
ALONE IN A SPARTAN BLACK COCKPIT, TEST PILOT MIKE MELVILL ROCKETED TOWARD SPACE. HE HAD EIGHTY SECONDS TO EXCEED THE SPEED OF SOUND AND BEGIN THE CLIMB TO A TARGET NO CIVILIAN PILOT HAD EVER REACHED. HE MIGHT NOT MAKE IT BACK ALIVE. IF HE DID, HE WOULD MAKE HISTORY AS THE WORLD’S FIRST COMMERCIAL ASTRONAUT.
The spectacle defied reason, the result of a competition dreamed up by entrepreneur Peter Diamandis, whose vision for a new race to space required small teams to do what only the world’s largest governments had done before.
Peter Diamandis was the son of hardworking immigrants who wanted their science prodigy to make the family proud and become a doctor. But from the age of eight, when he watched Apollo 11 land on the Moon, his singular goal was to get to space. When he realized NASA was winding down manned space flight, Diamandis set out on one of the great entrepreneurial adventure stories of our time. If the government wouldn’t send him to space, he would create a private space flight industry himself.
In the 1990s, this idea was the stuff of science fiction. Undaunted, Diamandis found inspiration in an unlikely place: the golden age of aviation. He discovered that Charles Lindbergh made his transatlantic flight to win a $25,000 prize. The flight made Lindbergh the most famous man on earth and galvanized the airline industry. Why, Diamandis thought, couldn’t the same be done for space flight?
The story of the bullet-shaped SpaceShipOne, and the other teams in the hunt, is an extraordinary tale of making the impossible possible. It is driven by outsized characters—Burt Rutan, Richard Branson, John Carmack, Paul Allen—and obsessive pursuits.
In the end, as Diamandis dreamed, the result wasn’t just a victory for one team; it was the foundation for a new industry and a new age.
“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
“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.”
“[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...Most interesting was an observation that [Richard] Branson made in the book’s foreword: There isn’t much of a difference between being an adventurer and an entrepreneur. As an entrepreneur, you push the limits and try to protect the downside. As an adventurer, you push the limits, and protect the downside — which can be your life.”
—Vivkek Wadhwa, Washington Post
“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
“[How to Make a Spaceship] includes enough death-defying stunts, madcap schemes, wild coincidences, and rousing redemptive moments to fuel a dozen Hollywood blockbusters.”
“[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.”
Julian Guthrie is an award-winning journalist who spent 20 years at the San Francisco Chronicle and has been published by The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, and others. Her most recent book is The Billionaire and the Mechanic, a best-selling 2014 account of Oracle CEO Larry Ellison’s pursuit of the America’s Cup.
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How to Make a Spaceship is exactly the inspiration the next generation of audacious thinkers needs.