Book Review: Rocketeers

People as a group don’t get credit for making great advances. Individuals are the ones who rise above the background noise of humanity, and their suggestions or offerings provide a new thrust for our civilization. Edison brought ready energy to peoples’ houses; the Wright brothers brought ready transport across vast distances. Michael Belfiore in his book Rocketeers – How a Visionary Band of Business Leaders, Engineers, and Pilots is Boldly Privatizing Space gives identity to some of today’s individuals who are trying to rise above. His is the story of these individuals who want to enable the ready travel of people beyond Earth’s atmosphere.

Just recently, SpaceShipOne won the Ansari X Prize by privately funding a craft that could rise to more than 328,000 feet. Belfiore sees this as a starting point to a grand adventure for humankind. He claims, and writes, how individuals are able to accomplish tasks once solely in the realm of government. These few people, with great drive and smarts, set their special skills to attaining a specific goal. And some, almost miraculously, achieve it. The author also describes how most of these people, if not all, have great expectations on seeing their results become a cornerstone to another, new vibrant industry.

In this book, Belfiore is, if nothing else, amazingly vibrant and cheerful. Think, a cheerleader on steroids after drinking an overly caffeinated drink. He glamourizes imagery and enlightens background situations. In doing, he leaves no doubt as to the challenge of building rockets, the risk with flying them and the utmost joy upon a mission’s success. He relays the fear of having a plane door flap open during flight, the amazement of using a rocket to power a bicycle, and the dejection of months of effort evaporating with the failure of one small, relatively inexpensive, component. Within this book, everything is happening immediately, in front of the reader. Great distances and many people dash by, as the book follows the author while he visits airfield operators, financial underwriters and rocket developers. He conveys the feeling of no time to waste, as in any start-up industry.

This traveling about by the author is the greatest appeal to this book. Belfiore includes passages that show he hasn’t just read clippings and then written a book. Rather, he’s gone out, met the people and got first hand information. He writes of meetings with Bigelow, Feeney, Ansari and many others. He describes many of the manufacturing facilities, test sites and mock-ups which he visited. Included within the book are photographs and fun anecdotal events to back up these travels. With these, the book really comes alive for the reader. The reader becomes part of the working group gathered around the restaurant table, all drawing schematics on paper napkins.

But, this optimism and vibrancy throughout the text makes for a very one-sided appreciation of the undertaking. Entrepreneurs and experimenters with near-limitless funding or with connections to wealthy benefactors are all nearly eulogized as being the best. The government comes across as lost, misdirected or obstructionist. Further, there’s only reference to efforts in the United States. Therefore, as wonderful as this will read for any rich citizen in the United States, others may have some difficulty in sharing in the excitement and hope. Given references to one hundred thousand dollar tickets to fly to orbit and back, most people on this planet will never experience this pleasure. Hence, though Belfiore is careful to write that the goal is to benefit all humankind, the book’s details impart a different story.

Hence, if a reader is very much into space and rocket travel, this book is great fun. Rocket plane races, weddings in space and orbiting hotels make for exciting visions of the future. Those readers who perhaps dwell deeper in the practicalities will find this book a bit overly optimistic and thin. But, anyone who enjoys fast paced, lively writing on technical subjects will enjoy this book probably as much as Belfiore says he had in gathering the information.

Working for the future allows us to put substance into our dreams. Waiting for a finished product to service our longings may mean never doing it. In Rocketeers – How a Visionary Band of Business Leaders, Engineers, and Pilots is Boldly Privatizing Space, Michael Belfiore writes of those doing the deed rather than waiting for a provider. For them, a ticket to ride can never come soon enough and their dreams may just enable ours.

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2 Replies to “Book Review: Rocketeers”

  1. Actually, individuals don’t do anything beyond financing or expanding on existing technology. This book perpetuates the myth of the significant man. It’s a load of garbage. Around the time of Edison, Bell, and Gray, how fast did information travel?

    Even Newton was wise enough to say “If I have seen farther, it is because I stand upon the shoulders of giants.” Calculus was being discovered independently elsewhere along with every other significant achievement in knowledge.

    Probably the only true genius was Tesla.

  2. forts about in a hollow what effect Years later, now wasn’t at my dad were told it is a I didn’t

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