Engaging account of the race to get a rocket up to the Karman line without getting NASA involved.
In her last book, The Billionaire and the Mechanic (2013), former San Francisco Chronicle journalist Guthrie recounted Oracle CEO Larry Ellison’s quest to win the America’s Cup. Here, she recounts entrepreneur Peter Diamandis’ libertarian dream of taking space exploration out of the hands of government and putting it into the hands of private citizens. Of course, there’s a reason government handles most space flight: it costs staggering amounts of money. Diamandis was not always wealthy, writes Guthrie, but he had been single-minded about his pursuit, blending studies in engineering and medicine while sublimating some of his other interests. “There were times when Peter longed for a girlfriend,” writes the author, “and other times when he realized love would have to wait.” Big-picture thinker thus secured, Guthrie’s tale turns to the foot soldiers of the piece, chief among them 63-year-old test pilot Mike Melvill and his team of desert-rat mechanics, who pinned all their hopes on winning the $10 million purse that Diamandis offered for a spacecraft that could get beyond Earth’s atmosphere. As Virgin Group founder Richard Branson writes in the foreword, because of Diamandis and his XPRIZE, “billions of dollars have been invested in commercializing space.” Guthrie’s book isn’t quite up to the literary heights of Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff (1979), but it’s very good. The author treats matters of scientific and technical weight with a light hand, as when she writes of how a test flight is put together—with a lot of data analysis and braking at first, then with a few passes in the “thin cushion of air inches above the runway,” and then, finally, in the wild blue yonder.
Just the thing for aspiring astronauts and rocketeers.