Space entrepreneurship, buy the book
Ventures and visionaries
In the fall of 1998 writer Paula Berinstein made a major discovery. Attending the Space Frontier Foundation’s annual conference in Los Angeles, she found that there were private companies run by “serious nonkooks”—well-grounded, realistic individuals—trying to build businesses that involved sending people and cargoes into space. This was a revelation to Berinstein, who considered herself to have a passionate interest in space and had worked for Rocketdyne for several years. It also prompted her to write describing this revolution in commercial space ventures.
Making Space Happen is a series of profiles of a number of people either involved with running entrepreneurial space companies or otherwise involved with promoting space commercialization. The profiles are based on interviews Berinstein performed primarily at conferences like the Space Frontier Conference and the National Space Society’s International Space Development Conference. Those interviews range from space tourism advocates Tom Rogers and Patrick Collins to SpaceDev founder Jim Benson to Mars exploration champion Robert Zubrin. Several appendices provide additional information on space tourism, regulatory issues, and propulsion.
Berinstein strikes a good balance between letting her interview subjects talk and providing additional information and commentary. Each chapter includes long excerpts of comments made by the interview subjects, which Beinstein fills in with background information about the person and topic. The result is a good balance: the people she interviewed get their points across in their own words, but she adds her own information and commentary to avoid simply uncritically regurgitating their words. Even those who have heard the profiled people speak at multiple conferences can learn something from the profiles in this book.
If there is anything wrong with Making Space Happen, it is with what Berinstein decided to exclude, not include. She freely admits that there are far more interesting topics than what there was room for in the book, so some concepts she found interesting but not realistic in the foreseeable future, like space solar power, were omitted. The book is especially weighted towards space tourism and lunar exploration, with several chapters devoted to each topic. The book unfortunately does not include profiles of any of the entrepreneurs working on commercials RLVs, like Gary Hudson, Mitchell Burnside Clapp, or Michael Kelly. While RLVs are mentioned in respect to topics like space tourism and the X Prize, the issue of affordable access to space, critical to the success of other commercial space ventures, arguably doesn’t get the attention it deserves.
At the end of each chapter, Berinstein includes a section titled “The Author’s Opinion”, where she describes what she thinks of the person or topic discussed. This commentary is usually reasonable and well-informed, but generally far too short: often no more than a paragraph or two. Throughout the book she had proven both her expertise in the subject as well as an ability to cut through the hype to the heart of an issue. She is as qualified as anyone to express her opinions and support them, but rarely do these brief sections tacked onto the end of each chapter permit herself to do so.
The unwritten chapter
Both books make an effort to describe the potential of affordable space access and commercial space ventures to a wider audience. In the end, Making Space Happen does a far better job of describing the potential of future space businesses than They All Laughed at Christopher Columbus described the rise and fall of one such company. Neither, though, is the definitive book on either the commercial space boom of the late 1990s or its aftermath. That book may not be able to be published until a final chapter can be written, one where affordable space access is finally achieved. We eagerly await its publication.