Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A few days ago I finished Rocketeers by Michael Belfiore.

Subtitled "How a Visionary Band of Business Leaders, Engineers, and Pilots Is Boldly Privatizing Space", Rocketeers is a chronicle of the first few years of a new industry, sometimes referred to as NewSpace or Alt.Space, that is trying to revolutionize access to space through entrepreneurial means rather than government action.

Belfiore interviewed a number of the most important people in this new field, including people at Burt Rutan's Scaled Composites, Bigelow Aerospace, RocketPlane Kistler and SpaceX. He does a good job of covering the people he interviews, but a little more information on some of the other companies would have been interesting.

There are two flaws in this book. The first is that it is very early in the development of this industry and therefore the real prospects of these companies are far from certain. In particular, the last year has seen a lot of setbacks, from the explosion at Scaled Composite's test site that killed three employees, to Rocketplane Kistler losing their NASA COTS funding and there being no winner of the Lunar Lander challenge at the X prize cup after two years with only one competitor - Armadillo Aerospace. The second is that Belfiore falls into common cliche in non-fiction books - he injects himself into the story. For example,
his reaction to finding about the Apollo moon landings in the start of the book is neither germane to the story, nor interesting, to read about. Similarly, his reaction to the Doom computer game in the small section on John Carmack and Armadillo Aerospace is just a distraction.

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