The historic race that reawakened the promise of manned spaceflight A Finalist for the PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award
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.
About the Author
Julian Guthrie is an award-winning journalist who spent twenty years at the San Francisco Chronicle and has been published by The Wall Street Journal, Time, The Huffington Post, and others. She is the author of The Billionaire and the Mechanic, a bestselling account of Oracle CEO Larry Ellison’s pursuit of the America’s Cup, and of The Grace of Everyday Saints, the story of the longest parish protest in Catholic America.
“If you admirethose 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
“Guthrie has a gift of building suspense around these airborne incidents of inherent drama—such as a balloon flight gone wildly wrong that ends in a botched parachute jump—as well as larger questions about space, technology and life’s purpose . . . How to Make a Spaceship is . . . ultimately flight-worthy and impressively ambitious. When the history of 21st century American space efforts is written decades or centuries from now, this book will be a valuable contemporary record of what it was like when humanity was trying to break out of its home.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“[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. But as with all entrepreneurial ventures, nothing went according to plan: It was riddled with failure and disappointment; ugly battles broke out between friends and founders; the world often looked like it was coming to an end; and Diamandis had to gamble everything he had.” —Vivkek Wadhwa, Washington Post
“[How to Make a Spaceship] includes enough death-defying stunts, madcap schemes, wild coincidences, and rousing redemptive moments to fuel a dozen Hollywood blockbusters.” —Wired.com
“Ms. Guthrie’s tale is sometimes tragic, but ultimately it is an uplifting one that will appeal to adventure junkies as well as to those who prize free-market solutions to monumental challenges.” —Wall Street Journal
“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.” —Publishers Weekly
“Engaging… Just the thing for aspiring astronauts and rocketeers.” —Kirkus
“I don’t know how Julian Guthrie does it. In her last book, she didn’t race in the America’s Cup, yet readers felt they had. And now in How to Make a Spaceship, although she wasn’t strapped into the cockpit of the first civilian spacecraft to rocket into outer space, her vivid writing places readers right there. With the flair of a novelist and the precision of a fine journalist, she takes readers on a journey not just into space but into the hearts and minds of the adventurers who dare go where NASA no longer does. Her tale will quicken your pulse.” —Ken Auletta, author of Googled: The End of the World as We Know It
“The story of Peter Diamandis is a reminder of the power of passion and persistence. How to Make a Spaceship chronicles the amazing journey of a key figure in the private race to space—a dreamer who, in the face of multiple setbacks and naysayers, simply refused to let go of his dream.” —Arianna Huffington, author, cofounder of The Huffington Post
“Too few kids and young adults understand the power of science and technology. We need role models demonstrating the power of passion and perseverance to make dreams come true. How to Make a Spaceship is filled with innovators and doers. The story will inspire makers of all ages.” —Dean Kamen, inventor, entrepreneur, founder of FIRST Robotics
“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
“This outstanding and compelling book shows the power of one man’s vision, and the ability of small teams to accomplish extraordinary things. How to Make a Spaceship will inspire and guide you to take on your own Moonshot.” —Ray Kurzweil, Inventor, Author, Futurist and Chancellor, Singularity University
“[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.” —Kirkus Reviews