Realizing Tomorrow: The Path to Private Spaceflight

  • Published

Realizing Tomorrow: The Path to Private Spaceflight by Chris Dubbs and Emeline Paat-Dahlstrom. University of Nebraska Press, 2011, 344 pp. 

The Apollo 17 launch on 4 December 1972 closed a “glorious chapter in space exploration” (p. 3). On the evening of that launch, astronauts, space artists, science fiction writers, and heads of various space organizations gathered on the deck of the SS Statendam to answer a single question: What will America’s new space vision be? With that question in mind, coauthors Chris Dubbs and Emeline Paat-Dahlstrom dive into the evolution of space exploration from 1972 to today.

Realizing Tomorrow is the seventh entry in the series Outward Odyssey: A People’s History of Spaceflight, which seeks to expand public knowledge of space development—and this book delivers. The coauthors boast resumes built upon space research, development, consulting, and publication. They do an amazing job of adding to this series by taking us from government-funded space development to the world of high-finance entrepreneurs wishing to make space an option for civilians.

Many people are aware of the space race between the United States and Russia, but not many know about the importance of Robert Truax, an accomplished rocket scientist, to vessel development. His desire to build a rocket with private funding “consumed him for a decade” (p. 47). The authors detail how Truax paired with Evel Knievel and came up with the idea that public relations could generate support for space innovation. Truax, who had either plenty of time or plenty of money but never both, was continuously plagued by slow development, which would cause the money to dry up. However, despite such problems, his legacy “set the standard for the swim-against-the-current entrepreneurs who would follow” (p. 60).

With rocket companies searching for ways to identify funding options, the other important factor involved locating people willing to pay the price, both financial and physical. Would the public show enough interest to make space travel viable? The answer was a resounding yes. Biologists, teachers, venture capitalists, and many others from around the world entered competitions or paid millions just for the chance to be on a waiting list. The stories of Christa McAuliffe and the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger; Dennis Tito and his legal battles to visit the Mir space station or International Space Station (ISS); and Anousheh Ansari, who would prove vital by partnering to create the Ansari X Prize, all appear in this chaotic pursuit of space.

Readers looking for intricate details about the Apollo space program will be disappointed. By focusing on the commercial side of the house, Dubbs and Paat-Dahlstrom contrast the bureaucracy of government programs with the efficiency of the private sector. Further, they show the value of both the public and private sectors in research and development as well as the inevitable conflict that can occur between these entities. However, in the end, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)—along with many government and commercial clients—is helping to push the development of cheaper transportation to space. Whether space habitats, satellites, resupply missions to the ISS, or just space tourism, the applications are numerous. It has become “easy to imagine a tidal shift in access to space, as if the whole private space industry had just stepped forward to stand on a more even footing with NASA” (p. 266).

Realizing Tomorrow offers a compelling, elaborate look at the evolution of commercial space travel and masterfully intertwines a group of people who have pursued and are pursuing privately funded space exploration. This book compels us to believe that space is within our grasp and that the progress made from Kitty Hawk to present-day aviation will occur during today’s “Space Age.”

Capt Valentino A. Diaz, USAF

Fairchild AFB, Washington

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."