Book Review: Spaceport Earth: The Reinvention of Spaceflight by Joe Pappalardo

There is no doubt that private space companies have reinvigorating American efforts to return to space on US systems since the unceremonious lapse of American manned launch capabilities with the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011.  Spaceport Earth is more about that reinvigoration in the US than about global launch capability although it does touch on that.

First the facts.  The book is 218 pages of text divided into 10 topical chapters and an epilogue.  A source list, acknowledgements, and an index.

The book essentially covers developments in private space since the first flight of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipOne in 2003 through to the book’s publication last year.  Many things have happened in the interim from the breakup of Columbia during reentry in 2004 to the space shuttle retirement in 2011 and the rise of private spaceflight most famously demonstrated by SpaceX.

The author surveys the various private and public/private spaceports around the country from Mojave to Cape Canaveral while describing the challenges and successes of each endeavor most interesting is the discussion of how Mojave Spaceport acts as the Silicon Valley of private space travel and the colossal flop that has so far become of Spaceport America in the New Mexican desert.  The story of Mojave is interesting because there is so much happening there that the general public stays unaware of until it bursts onto the scene.

Spaceport America is a project that was hailed far and wide when it was first announced but has so far largely languished because they hinged their future success on one large customer that has so far failed to deliver.  If and when Virgin Galactic starts launching paying customers they will do so from New Mexico which will most likely dramatically change the outlook for Spaceport America.

The most dramatic spaceport described, as it always has been is Cape Canaveral.  It is exciting though not because of anything NASA is doing but because of a tenant, SpaceX.  SpaceX is the company proving that private spaceflight can be commercially viable.  Not only is SpaceX essentially the only private company with a rigorous launch schedule they also have a hefty development program for progressively heavier lift vehicles, a manned program, and a very slick PR operation.  SpaceX is busy transforming US spaceflight and it is even beginning to look like they might beat some other national programs.

The author also looks at the ESA launch business in French Guiana while saying little to nothing about the Chinese and Indian space programs mainly because both of these countries programs are essentially opaque to outside observers.

The book is a pretty good roundup of the current state of commercial space activity in the US in comparison to the rest of the world.  It is well written, well-researched and should be of interest to anyone who is a fan of spaceflight and wants to see the US regain domestic manned spaceflight capability.  A great and highly recommended book.