Book Review: “How to Make a Spaceship”

How to Make a SpaceshipThanks to Penguin Press, Yuri’s Night just got a sneak peek at their new book coming out on September 20 called “How to Make a Spaceship – A Band of Renegades, an Epic Race, and the Birth of Private Spaceflight” by Julian Guthrie” — and we were very impressed. The book tells the story of the birth of the Ansari XPRIZE and provides a biographical look at Peter Diamandis and the many other players that started a revolution in an industry normally dominated by giant aerospace and defense contractors like Lockheed, Boeing, and Arianespace.

Whether your local Yuri’s Night event was your first introduction to the world of human spaceflight (and you want to learn more) or you’ve followed the industry since the Apollo moon missions, you will enjoy learning about the start of the nascent commercial space industry in this book.

The book begins humbly, telling the story of Peter Diamandis, a child of the space age who secretly tested and built rockets with his boyhood friends, while realizing that his family expected him to get a degree in medicine like his father. The book follows Peter through his busy college years during which he founded a number of space organizations and companies including Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS), the International Space University (ISU), and International Microspace. Amazingly, he created these organizations while working on a Bachelor’s degree, Master’s Degree and a M.D. at MIT and Harvard. Peter’s primary disappointment in his early years was that NASA had stopped reaching for impossible goals on the moon and beyond, so he resolved to start companies and organizations that could get him and others into space.


This book is basically the equivalent of Walter Isaacson’s tech industry history The Innovators, but geared towards the 21st century spaceflight industry.


As he left school, he continued to look for opportunities to return the space industry to its glory days and inspire the nation and the world. One major idea that Peter started floating after reading about the Orteig Prize that incentivized Charles Lindbergh’s flight from New York to Paris in 1927 was a plan for a prize to incentivize private spaceflight. With a group of astronauts, engineers, and other experts, he devised the rules for what he called the XPRIZE, where ‘X’ would be replaced by a sponsor’s name. The prize required 2 flights to the edge of space within 2 weeks and the winner would be awarded $10 million, though Peter launched the challenge long before he had the prize money.

The second half of the book highlights many of the teams around the world who entered the XPRIZE, from a scrappy team of Romanian amateurs led by Dumitru Popescu, who ignored the disdain of his government space bureau and managed to launch a rocket to 1200m, to Burt Rutan, the famous designer of many unique and extraordinary aircraft. The XPRIZE tale also highlights Peter’s struggles to fund the prize, during which he met and encouraged many people who now influence the space industry, from a young Elon Musk to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and unconventional British businessman Richard Branson. The story also follows the story of Charles Lindbergh’s grandson Erik, who supported Peter’s idea of a new Orteig Prize and who had an amazing recovery from the effects of his rheumatoid arthritis that allowed him to recreate his grandfather’s solo flight to support the XPRIZE effort.

In the end, Peter managed to fund the XPRIZE with help from the generosity of the Ansari family and a hole-in-one insurance policy, setting the prize deadline at the end of 2004. By the middle of 2004, the ever-creative Burt Rutan had begun flying a unique air-dropped spaceship design and began testing its powerful hybrid rocket engine. The rest, as they say, is history.

Burt and his motley crew in the California desert were able to fly their craft, SpaceShipOne, twice with the weight of a pilot and two passengers to win the XPRIZE and break the X-15’s suborbital altitude records from 1963. The story has a happy ending, as Peter and the many other innovators in this book continue to press the limits of spaceflight among other industries via their many companies and the XPRIZE foundation, which has launched dozens of prizes to do everything from improve human health to clean up ocean oil spills.

In all, this book was an amazing read. It is basically the equivalent of Walter Isaacson’s tech industry history The Innovators, but geared towards the 21st century spaceflight industry. The book will be available soon in bookstores near you or on e-book readers like the Kindle or Nook – support Yuri’s Night by using this Amazon link to preorder your copy.


This book’s relation to our team & mission

The majority of the members of our team wouldn’t be where we are today if Peter had not blazed the trail for us. Most of us were members of SEDS, many have been to the International Space University and some of us were on hand for that first SpaceShipOne flight that changed the story that only nation-states could create a space program. At Yuri’s Night we believe in bringing the world together – and that’s what Peter and his many friends did, they banded together and even though they sometimes failed and faltered, they showed that through perseverance, we can achieve the impossible. Thanks to every one of our supporters for helping our small team at Yuri’s Night change the world.

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