How to Make a Spaceship: A Band of Renegades, an Epic Race, and the Birth of Private Spaceflight

Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher: Penguin Audio

Date: September 2016

Duration: 16 hours 37 minutes


A New York Times bestseller!

The historic race that reawakened the promise of manned spaceflight

Alone in a Spartan black cockpit, test pilot Mike Melvill rocketed toward space. He had eighty seconds to exceed the speed of sound and begin the climb to a target no civilian pilot had ever reached. He might not make it back alive. If he did, he would make history as the world’s first commercial astronaut.

The spectacle defied reason, the result of a competition dreamed up by entrepreneur Peter Diamandis, whose vision for a new race to space required small teams to do what only the world’s largest governments had done before.

Peter Diamandis was the son of hardworking immigrants who wanted their science prodigy to make the family proud and become a doctor. But from the age of eight, when he watched Apollo 11 land on the Moon, his singular goal was to get to space. When he realized NASA was winding down manned space flight, Diamandis set out on one of the great entrepreneurial adventure stories of our time. If the government wouldn’t send him to space, he would create a private space flight industry himself.

In the 1990s, this idea was the stuff of science fiction. Undaunted, Diamandis found inspiration in an unlikely place: the golden age of aviation. He discovered that Charles Lindbergh made his transatlantic flight to win a $25,000 prize. The flight made Lindbergh the most famous man on earth and galvanized the airline industry. Why, Diamandis thought, couldn’t the same be done for space flight?

The story of the bullet-shaped SpaceShipOne, and the other teams in the hunt, is an extraordinary tale of making the impossible possible. It is driven by outsized characters—Burt Rutan, Richard Branson, John Carmack, Paul Allen—and obsessive pursuits. In the end, as Diamandis dreamed, the result wasn’t just a victory for one team; it was the foundation for a new industry and a new age.


  • Peter Mackay

    An odyssey to encourage and promote privately financed space exploration. This is an outstanding story of a few who dreamed big and remained focused in putting a private spacecraft into the space. This was a big dream when it was first thought, but the efforts and persistence of an individual like Peter Diamandis made this dream a reality. Author Julian Guthrie has done a fascinating job of documenting everything associated with this adventure. There is suspense, drama, initial setbacks and final success in making the dream come true. This is a very engaging and highly readable story. ***SPOILERS BELOW*** A brief summary of the book is as follows: In 1996, entrepreneur Peter Diamandis offered a $10-million prize (XPRIZE) to the first privately financed team that could build and fly 62 miles into space. The contest, later titled the Ansari XPRIZE for Suborbital Spaceflight motivated 26 teams. The prize was finally won by the team using a spacecraft called SpaceShipOne. The prize was shared 50-50 between Burt Rutan’s Company and Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft Corporation. Currently this spacecraft is on display at the National Mall in Washington D.C. at Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. The first XPRIZE – the Ansari XPRIZE – was inspired by the Orteig Prize, a $25,000 prize offered in 1919 for the first nonstop flight between New York City and Paris. Charles Lindbergh won the prize in a modified single-engine Ryan aircraft called the Spirit of St. Louis in 1927. There were tough obstacles in the path of this crazy idea, because even the world’s largest governments hadn’t succeeded in building reusable manned spacecraft and Peter did not have a clue how he will generate ten million dollar prize money. His friend Burt Ruttan brainstormed about the most vexing part of human space flight, the holy grail of manned missions and returning to earth successfully. The thought of presenting his ideas to Paul Allen came to him during one of the meetings with Peter Diamandis. When news broke, The First USA Bank, anticipating significant revenue from XPRIZE cards, offered $5 million of the total $10 million prize money on certain stipulations. NASA, FAA, rocket designers and aviation experts were perplexed and also enthusiastic when Diamandis announced his plan on May 18, 1996. Chapter 27 entitled “Flirting with Calamity,” and Chapter 31 entitled “Rocketing the Redemption” describes the exciting moments in the history of private space exploration documenting the details of the success of the actual flights above the Mojave Desert in California, and subsequent call to congratulate the team by President George Bush aboard Air Force One. The book also documents interesting stories behind the other unsuccessful attempts by several teams from United States and other countries. There are four stories in particular that author discusses in detail and they themselves make fascinating stories despite their failure. They include the attempts made by John Carmack of United States, Dumitru Popescu from Romania, Pablo de Leon from Argentina, and Steve Bennett from United Kingdom. On June 21, 2004, SpaceShipOne made the first privately funded human spaceflight. On October 4, it won the US$10 million Ansari X Prize, by reaching 62 miles in altitude twice in a two-week period with the equivalent of three people on board and with no more than ten percent of the non-fuel weight of the spacecraft replaced between flights. Development costs were estimated to be $25 million, largely financed by Paul Allen. The XPRIZE has created several private space exploration pioneers that include; Jim Akkerman, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk. Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin made strides in developing suborbital spacecrafts using reusable spacecrafts at a relatively low-cost. Elon Musk’s SpaceX has a $1.6 billion contract with NASA to fly cargo resupply missions to International Space Station. Peter Diamandis became the founder of XPRIZE foundation and currently offering $30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE for a privately owned spacecraft to land a robot on the Moon, travel 500 meters on the surface and beam the video back to earth. This is tremendous amount of effort by a single individual who dreamed big, achieved success and now helping others to travel to space and beyond. A real fascinating story and I thoroughly enjoyed reading/listening this book.