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Publisher's Summary

The historic race that reawakened the promise of manned spaceflight.

Alone in a Spartan black cockpit, test pilot Mike Melvill rocketed toward space. He had 80 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.

©2016 Julian Guthrie (P)2016 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

“If you admire those 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)

What listeners say about How to Make a Spaceship

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An ego trip for the X-Prize Founder

This book has nothing to do with the development or any technical aspects of SpaceShipOne. It is an ego stroking trip for the X-Prize founder. A man with very little genius but fortunate enough to be privileged and connected. I would not be surprised if he commissioned this book in an attempt to buy him some sort of legacy. Chapter upon chapter is devoted to boring background on growing up in the 1970s and 80s in a very much typical and unremarkable experience that most of us who grew up in that period had. Just because you launched este model rockets as a kid does not make you the next Robert Goddard or VonBraun. We all did that stuff as kids. I kept skipping chapters in a vain attempt to find some redeeming technical discussion on civilian spacecraft development but unfortunately never found it.

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A Fun and Thrilling Ride

I remember being itty bitty, waking up, wearing PJs, to watch all sorts of fantastical rocket launches. The memories are vague but fun.
So I'm confounded that everything that happens in "How to Make a Spaceship" happened outside my awareness. Did Life really make me that distracted? What fun, then, to take this ride now, with all of the players, big dreamers, small dreamers, all oh so devoted.
This is kind of like "Rocket Boys" meets "The Right Stuff". It follows the creation of a renewed drive to see space entered and goes along to the actual people who strove to make it happen. And all along the way were failures, which I found to be inspiring because people learned from them. They did NOT give up.
Personalities are addressed, hopes, emotions. You're right there, thinking and living with the people. And the writing is superb: some writing reads like straight adventure, and some reads like poetry.
Rob Shapiro does well; nonfiction is hard. But he gets into the grittier parts, breathes life into the parts where words are brushstrokes on a glorious stellar canvas. I dinged him a star, however, because I absolutely had to listen to this at x1.25; it was far too slow going at regular speed. Otherwise, good job.
Wonderful people, lyrical, edge-of-your-seat writing. Only Richard Branson earns the occasional eye roll. I enjoyed every minute, didn't feel the sixteen hours at all. Plus, the epilogue/where-are-they-now was fantastic to hear

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Where science fiction becomes reality

Wow! Must read for any person who even remotely likes the idea of space travel. A real life science fiction come to life. Filled with amazing characters and the richest story. Wonderful writing and performance. Please read! Share with your children to inspire them !

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Wonderful story, brilliantly told

As of February 2020, I have read all 3 of Julian Guthrie’s books. They are all wonderful and this one was my favorite. The story of the XPrize is fascinating and captures the imagination like few others in history.

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struggled

Struggled through it because I only knew about Richard Branson vaguely and nothing about Peter Diamandis.

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An inspiring story and well written book

This is by far my favorite book of all-time. It is an inspiring story of what one can achieve through persistence, hard work, and yes even a little luck. It is very well researched and superbly written. Unlike some audiobooks, the narrator does not in anyway detract from the telling of the story and in fact does an excellent job. I cannot recommend this book more strongly to you. I hope you enjoy it.

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My new Favorite

Every aspect of this audiobook is excellent. I like it so much I'll probably listen to it over and over.

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Gives me hope

I’m looking back on my life and wondering where I was that I didn’t know all of this was going on.

I love the story of everyone involved. It gives me hope that an individual with an idea can inspire and make something happen to improve our world.

Really great book. I loved it.

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Multiple converging stories

Great job at putting together this story of private space flight. I wasn't aware of the major milestones by Rutan in creating momentum for private space flight.

The author tried too hard to make personal connections with characters at times, and this was compounded by a narrator who was overly emotional at the same time; but I still highly recommend this audible.

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Use the word impossible cautiously.

Amazing story and extremely well put together. An inspirational tale that I would recommend to anyone. This is my first book review out of 150 hours of listening on audible.