Having recently retired after a long career with one of the "Big Three" aerospace corporations, I have always had a pretty dim view of the privitization of spaceflight. I guess I was just "old school" enough to believe, deep down but without any objective analysis, that spaceflight was and always would be the province of governments. My career taught me, at the visceral level, that putting things into Earth orbit and beyond is risky, complicated and expensive, and I figured, without really thinking too much about it, that only governments had the resources to conduct spaceflight operations successfully. Having said that, the main factor that caused me to be so spectacularly wrong in my assessment of commercial spaceflight possibilities was the rise of the Internet billionaire.
Since I had not really followed the growth of private spaceflight companies such as Orbital Sciences Corporation, Kistler Aerospace and Space Exploration Technologies ("SpaceX") over the last 10 years or so, I didn't know very much about them. Every once in a while a local news item would appear about the construction of Spaceport America, just up the road from me north of Las Cruces, New Mexico, where Virgin Galactic's air-launched SpaceshipTwo will soon start lobbing well-heeled tourists on short up-and-down suborbital hops. That piqued my interest in commercial spaceflight a little, so I picked up a copy of Eric Seedhouse's "SpaceX: Making Commercial Spaceflight a Reality" as soon as it became available.
And now I know a lot more about the subject. "SpaceX" is a typical Springer/Praxis book, and that's high praise indeed. Its detailed, comprehensive, technically accurate (as far as I can tell) and quite readable, considering the esoteric subject matter. At just over 200 pages, "SpaceX" is a lot thinner than a normal Springer/Praxis tome, but packed into those 200 pages is the whole, if brief, history of the company. The story begins in 2002 with SpaceX's founding by Internet entrepreneur Elon Musk (of PayPal and Tesla Motors fame), continues through its in-house development of rocket engines, launch vehicles and spacecraft, and concludes with its successful March 2013 Dragon cargo module flight to the International Space Station. While there is enough detail about the engines, boosters, spacecraft, testing and mission operations to satisfy techno-geeks, much of the text describes the financial arrangements with NASA that were key to SpaceX's success. I found those parts less interesting, but they are important if one wants to understand the funding and politics of privately conducted spaceflights. Black-and-white and color photos abound throughout "SpaceX." Some of them are not as clear as they could be, and a few have mildly weird color casts, but they are very useful in supplementing the text.
Unlike the normal Springer/Praxis book, it only took me a few days to read "SpaceX." When I finished it, I felt I had gained an excellent understanding of the future of spaceflight in the 21st century. It certainly is different than what I grew up with! If you're at all interested in learning how private companies will soon dominate U.S. spaceflight operations with hardware they've developed for far less money than it would cost the government, read "SpaceX: Making Commercial Spaceflight a Reality."