My wife is from Cameroon so she is thrilled that the first creature that America sent into orbit was from Cameroon.

The creature was named Enos. He was a chimp from Cameroon. He flew aboard the Mercury-Atlas 5 on November 29, 1961. Enos logged three hours and 21 minutes in space. He paved the way for the first American orbital flight just three months later.

I’m a fan of space exploration and astronomy. I’m an even bigger fan of the privatization of spaceflight so I’ve been following the news fairly closely.

Still, just like I didn’t know about Enos the chimp, Christian Davenport’s upcoming book, Space Barons: Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and the Quest to Colonize the Cosmos, delivers plenty of facts that I didn’t know about.

If you’ve been meticulously following the headlines, then I suppose there’s little new in Davenport’s book. Test yourself.

Did you know that . . .

 

  • . . . Jeff Bezos nearly died in a helicopter crash?
  • . . . the big aerospace giants (e.g., Boeing) called SpaceX an “ankle biter” and that Elon Musk would basically call Blue Origin the same thing years later?
  • . . . Bezos and Musk are rocket geeks but that Richard Branson knows little about them?
  • . . . Paul Allen loves space exploration but is terrified of the risk of losing a human life?
  • . . . Bezos is the turtle and Musk is the hare?

Soviet space feats

Although it's not mentioned in the book, I recently learned that Americans were NOT the first to land something on the moon. The Soviets were. They landed Luna 2 on the moon's surface a stunning 10 years before Apollo 11 (the first humans to land on the moon). 

It's just more proof how we glorify our own country. I wonder if you grew up in Russia, you'd hear nonstop about Luna 2 but almost nothing about Apollo 11.

Yes, it's more impressive to land humans on the moon and return them safely to Earth than to crash an object into the moon, but we still ought to acknowledge the Soviet accomplishment and not ignore it. 

Fortunately, Americans do talk about Sputnik and Yuri Gagarin.Still, that's just the tip of the Soviet Space Program's iceberg. To quote Wikipedia:

[The Soviets were] responsible for a number of pioneering accomplishments in space flight including the first intercontinental ballistic missile (R-7), first satellite (Sputnik 1), first animal in Earth orbit (the dog Laika on Sputnik 2), first human in space and Earth orbit (cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin on Vostok 1), first woman in space and Earth orbit (cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova on Vostok 6), first spacewalk (cosmonaut Alexey Leonov on Voskhod 2), first Moon impact (Luna 2), first image of the far side of the moon (Luna 3) and unmanned lunar soft landing (Luna 9), first space rover (Lunokhod 1), first sample of lunar soil automatically extracted and brought to Earth (Luna 16), and first space station (Salyut 1). Further notable records included the first interplanetary probesVenera 1 and Mars 1 to fly by Venus and Mars, respectively, Venera 3 and Mars 2 to impact the respective planet surface, and Venera 7and Mars 3 to make soft landings on these planets.

So let's stop thinking that Americans were the only space pioneers. 

Sadly, Space Barons continues this sad tradition of ignoring the pioneering accomplishments of the Russians. For example, it doesn't even mention MirCorp, which sent the first space tourist (and wannabe space baron), Dennis Tito, to the International Space Station.

Instead, Space Barons focuses mostly on Bezos and Musk since the biggest space barons today. The book discusses Paul Allen, Richard Branson, and Peter Diamandis. 

Since Elon Musk and SpaceX are such great marketers, you've probably heard a lot about them and seen some of their videos. What I like about Space Barons is that it delves into the mysterious Blue Origin. I just wish Davenport's interview with Bezos was a bit more revealing than it was. 

Fortunately, Blue Origin has come out of the closet and has shown off some amazing feats. Check out these two videos. 

This second video really could use narration/music and an altimeter, but it's still stunning. 

Blue Origin claims that they land at 1 mile per hour, but that landing certainly doesn't look that soft. It looks at least 5 miles per hour, if not 10. Regardless, Skywalker Manniquin survived. 

Space Barons does not mention several companies that plan to mine asteroids. That's a pity. Perhaps Davenport believes that other companies are too small and/or their leaders aren't true "barons" yet. 

Despite these shortcomings, I loved reading Space Barons. It's one of those rare books that I devoured. I read a book a week. This is one that was hard to put down. It's one of my favorite books that I read in 2017.

Unfortunately, you won't be able to read it until April 17, 2018, which is when the book is made available to the public.

The main downside of the book is that by 2020 it will be out of date since progress in space is happening quickly. So pre-order it today and read it once you get it.

Verdict: 9/10 stars

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