How To Make A Spaceship, by Julian Guthrie

This is not a science fiction book, it’s science fact.

It’s the story of how one man hacked human motivation to create incentives for other people to achieve something he thought was very important. A biography of sorts, it tracks the meandering path followed by one man in an attempt to wrest spacefilght from the clutches of the public sector by inspiring private organizations and individuals to pick up the baton and run with it.

With NASA mired in the red tape and risk-averse mentality of big government, and further hobbled by newspapers keen to report on failures but uninterested in long-term projects, it looked like manned spaceflight was unlikely to advance faster than at a crawl. Wanting to bring the power of the private sector to bear on the problem, Diamandis found inspiration in the Spirit of St. Louis, the first plane to make a transatlantic flight in May 1927. The flight was a successful attempt to win the Orteig Prize.

Seeking his own sponsor, Diamandis initially names his competition the X-Prize, believing that the X would be replaced by the name of the sponsor by the time the prize was won.

While much is said of the grit and determination of the teams the vied for the prize for the first private organization to launch a manned ship out of the atmosphere, less is commonly known of the tenacity and resolve required to bring the prize itself into being.

How to Make a Spaceship, is a fun and readable journey through the origins of the X-Prize, and the journey of the man who carried it from its very beginnings, all the way through to the concluding ceremony when the renamed Ansari X-Prize was finally awarded to Scaled Composites and Burt Rutan for the suborbital flight of SpaceShipOne, piloted by Mike Melville for the first two launches and Brian Binnie for the third qualifying flight.

Alongside the emergence of SpaceX, the winning of the X-Prize is likely to be seen as a defining moment in the development of spaceflight, and this book brings us a little closer to the characters that brought this key moment to life.

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