Book Review: 'Realizing Tomorrow: The Path to Private Spaceflight'

The crew of STS-41D - launched in August 1984 - boasted the commercial industry's first astronaut, Charles Walker. He is pictured at top left (next to Judith Resnik). At bottom, crew members Mike Mullane, Steve Hawley, Hank Hartsfield and Michael Coats smile for the camera. Photo Credit: NASA.

The crew of STS-41D—launched in August 1984—boasted the commercial industry’s first astronaut, Charles Walker. He is pictured at top left (next to Judith Resnik). At bottom, crew members Mike Mullane, Steve Hawley, Hank Hartsfield, and Michael Coats smile for the camera. Photo Credit: NASA.

Realizing Tomorrow: The Path to Private Spaceflight was published by University of Nebraska Press in 2011 as part of its ongoing Outward Odyssey: A People’s History of Spaceflight series. On Sept. 1 of this year, it was released in paperback. The book was recently honored as a United States Air Force Chief of Staff 2013 Professional Reading List Selection. Written by Chris Dubbs and Emeline Paat-Dahlstrom, this worthy addition to the series outlines the history of private spaceflight ventures from its nascent beginnings (with one rocket man literally synthesizing launch vehicles out of his house) to its present upswing with enterprises such as Virgin Galactic and SpaceX.

'Realizing Tomorrow: The Path to Private Spaceflight' tells the story of those who dared to go to space outside the confines of NASA or other government space programs. Image Credit: University of Nebraska Press.

‘Realizing Tomorrow: The Path to Private Spaceflight’ tells the story of those who dared to go to space outside the confines of NASA or other government space programs. Image Credit: University of Nebraska Press.

The book begins with a foreword by the commercial industry’s first astronaut, Charles D. Walker, who flew three times during the space shuttle program (on STS-41D, 51D, and 61-B). Even this small section of the book was a joy to read, as Walker outlines his passion for spaceflight that began when he was a youngster watching Gus Grissom (a fellow Hoosier) fly. He detailed his disappointment when he didn’t make the cut after applying for the 1978 astronaut class, but alas, he had another plan.

Through his hard work with McDonnell Douglas developing its electrophoresis machine, Walker did achieve his dream—not once, but three times. His story is an inspiration for any private citizen who looks toward the skies.

The book further details the space journeys of other citizens and programs, some successful, some not. It was interesting to read about the travails (and, occasionally, discrimination) faced by those who paid to go into space, beginning with Dennis Tito and spanning to Richard Garriott (who became the first second-generation space traveler—his father, astronaut Owen Garriott, flew on Skylab 2 and STS-9). In addition, the effort to man Russia’s Mir space station with private travelers was discussed, along with the story of the first British citizen in space, Helen Sharman, who was part of Project Juno.

In addition, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipOne flights—intended to take civilians into suborbital space—are recounted. One can feel the excitement generated by those flights in the book’s bystander interviews. These days, dedicated space-watchers can get a kick out of the company’s newest rocket plane, SpaceShipTwo. The origins of the Ansari X PRIZE are also examined, as well as the spaceflight on the International Space Station of one of its backers, Anousheh Ansari, the first woman “space tourist.”

While the book encompasses the idea of space colonies (something popularized in the 1970s) and spans to today’s ventures (some currently happening), it soars beyond just the idea of “private space” and keeps the dream alive for those who may never be NASA astronauts, but look to the stars. This book is a valuable, entertaining read for those kinds of dreamers.

 

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