Monday, 1 June 2009

How to Build Your Own Spaceship, Piers Bizony

The title of How to Build Your Own Spaceship is not entirely accurate. Nor indeed is its sub-title, "the science of personal space travel". Bizony's book actually provides an introduction to the space industry.

Over seven very readable chapters, Bizony gives a brief history of space exploration, and outlines the various opportunities available in the space industry - either working directly for a government organisation such as NASA or ESA; working for a company manufacturing components for a government organisation; or for a NewSpace entrepreneur like Scaled Composites, T/Space, or SpaceX, among others.

How to Build Your Own Spaceship is a "pop-sci" book, and as such is chiefly aimed at readers who are interested in, but mostly uninformed on, the subject of space travel and getting into orbit. And it does this very well. It's not only informative, but also an entertaining read. Bizony peppers his "advice" (the book is addressed directly to the reader) with anecdotes, and facts and figures on the topic. I hadn't known, for example, that the Jet Propulsion Laboratory was so-named because it was created around the work of Jack Parsons, inventor of the Jet-Assisted Take-Off (JATO) rockets. Which were called "jet" because it was felt the word "rocket" had negative connotations for the military.

It is difficult at times to figure who is the book's intended readership. Bizony is a British writer, Portobello Books is a British publisher. Yet all monetary figures are given in US dollars, and some of the cultural references are distinctly American - mention of a"government goon knocking on your door with a SWAT team and an arrest warrant" (p 25), for example. In other sections, the book describes the US laws and regulations governing space from the point of view of a non-US company or entrepreneur.

If I have any complaints about How to Build Your Own Spaceship, it is its lack of diagrams. A few simple pictorial representations of the concepts being described would, I think, have much improved the book. Nonetheless, How to Build Your Own Spaceship is an excellent introduction to the business of putting people into orbit, and bringing them back.

How to Build Your Own Spaceship, Piers Bizony (2008, Portobello Books, ISBN 978-1-84627-125-0, 241pp + acknowledgments and selected bibliography)


gary gibson said...

Nice one. I came across your review just as I was about to buy this - and did.

Ian Sales said...

It's a good book. Lots of interesting and useful info.