Monday, May 10, 2021

Review: Liftoff by Eric Berger

Title: Liftoff
Author: Eric Berger
Pages: 268
ISBN: 9780008445638
Publisher: William Collins
Published: 2 March 2021
Genre: Non Fiction / Aerospace
Source: Review copy from publisher

The dramatic inside story of the first four historic flights that launched SpaceX—and Elon Musk—from a shaky startup into the world's leading edge rocket company.

SpaceX has enjoyed a miraculous decade. Less than 20 years after its founding, it boasts the largest constellation of commercial satellites in orbit, has pioneered reusable rockets, and in 2020 became the first private company to launch human beings into orbit. Half a century after the space race SpaceX is pushing forward into the cosmos, laying the foundation for our exploration of other worlds.

But before it became one of the most powerful players in the aerospace industry, SpaceX was a fledgling startup, scrambling to develop a single workable rocket before the money ran dry. The engineering challenge was immense; numerous other private companies had failed similar attempts. And even if SpaceX succeeded, they would then have to compete for government contracts with titans such as Lockheed Martin and Boeing, who had tens of thousands of employees and tens of billions of dollars in annual revenue. SpaceX had fewer than 200 employees and the relative pittance of $100 million in the bank.

As you watch the latest livestream of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket as it launches, delivers the latest batch of Starlink satellites to orbit and then successfully lands back on a droneship floating around on the ocean it's just another average day. SpaceX has made something that was unthinkable two decades ago seem mundane.  It’s easy to forget that SpaceX had a long, arduous journey to get where it is today. Nobody expected them to succeed, and yet, against all odds, they did.

"Can you believe that thing, or something like it, is going to take people to another planet for the first time in 4.5 billion years? I mean, probably. It may not work. But it probably will."

Liftoff by Eric Berger chronicles the early days of SpaceX where a handful of people made the impossible possible through their hard work, immense sacrifice and perseverance in the face of extreme adversity. With failure after failure they persisted. As the entire future of the company hinged on one final launch, they finally managed to bring Elon Musk’s vision of a more affordable, more agile spaceflight industry into being.

Liftoff is an absolutely fascinating read and shows how truly transformative SpaceX is, both in vision, management style and execution. A small upstart company which nobody believed could succeed, brought disruptive innovation into a stagnating industry which relied on the plodding status quo being maintained.

While Elon Musk is without a doubt the driving force and public face of SpaceX he didn’t do it by himself. Musk gets most of the spotlight but there was an entire team of engineers who worked tirelessly to make the Falcon rocket a reality. It was refreshing to finally hear their stories and to see how much they sacrificed to be part of something they truly believed in. Through sweat, tears and ingenuity they managed to make history. It’s about time their story is told.

If you are interested in spaceflight then Liftoff by Eric Berger is an essential read. It showcases the extremely tough early days of SpaceX and gives insight into a company which transformed the industry forever. With the development of Starship set to completely disrupt the industry once again, it was great to see where it all started and how SpaceX are building the tools to take us to the future. Highly recommended!

Thanks to Charlene from Jonathan Ball Publishers for the review copy.

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