An enthusiastic account of the pursuit of “a holy grail—a technology with the potential to dramatically lower the cost of space travel.”
The United States no longer has a manned space program, and the government has not shown any immediate plans to fund another. However, a quartet of billionaires has stepped in to fill the void, writes Washington Post space and defense staff writer Davenport (As You Were: To War and Back with the Black Hawk Battalion of the Virginia National Guard, 2009) in this well-researched account of the efforts of Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Richard Branson, and Paul Allen. “If NASA, or Congress, or any president wouldn’t stand up as John F. Kennedy did in 1961 when he promised to send a man to the moon within a decade,” writes the author, “then this class of entrepreneurs would attempt it.” First off the mark, in 2000, was Amazon’s Bezos, whose startup is building a reusable rocket for suborbital flights; the first manned launch is scheduled for 2018. Microsoft billionaire Allen invested in SpaceShipOne, which, in 2004, became the first privately funded manned craft to reach space. Virgin’s Branson took over to develop SpaceShipTwo, which will carry paying passengers on suborbital flights in a few years. Since founding SpaceX in 2002, Tesla’s Musk, “the brash hare” in this race, has focused his attention on Mars. His privately built reusable rockets regularly supply the Space Station; soon they will deliver astronauts, and he has announced plans to fly men around the moon this year.
Readers frustrated at the trickle of news from China (the only nation with an active manned space program) will thrill at this lucid, detailed, and admiring account of wealthy space buffs who are spending their own money, making headlines, producing genuine technical advances, and resurrecting the yearning to explore the cosmos.