Test Gods: Virgin Galactic and the Making of a Modern Astronaut

Nicholas Schmidle. Holt, $29.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-250-22975-5
New Yorker staff writer Schmidle (To Live or to Perish Forever) tells the exuberant, guts-and-glory tale of Virgin Galactic’s efforts to travel to space. Vivid portraits bring to life the people behind the bold project: Burt Rutan was “the most influential aerospace engineer of his generation,” and his company, Scaled, designed a ship for Virgin; Richard Branson comes through as a brash free-thinker who managed to turn a record company into a space tourism venture; Mike Moses, an aerospace engineer who previously worked at NASA, tries to “shed some realism” on the company’s ambitions; and test pilot Mark Stucky is a retired fighter pilot who dreamed his whole life of becoming an astronaut. Schmidle tempers his take on these “test gods” with the harsh reality of their single-minded passion and its cost in terms of money, time, relationships, and in some cases lives—one of the most powerful scenes describes the test flight that killed Mike Alsbury in 2014. Along the way, Schmidle movingly tells of his relationship with his own father, a fighter pilot who was an instructor when Stucky was a lieutenant. With brisk prose, extensive interviews, and plenty of panache, Schmidle captures “the difference between fighter pilots and everybody else.” The result is a page-turner, perfect for anyone in search of a story about the incredible coming within reach. Photos. (May)
Reviewed on : 02/11/2021
Release date: 05/04/2021
Genre: Nonfiction
Book - 978-1-250-22974-8
Paperback - 352 pages - 978-1-250-83894-0
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