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Free Minds & Free Markets

The Space Barons

Largely due to the influence of libertarian-leaning science fiction writer Robert Heinlein, a streak of futurist fascination with interplanetary rockets has been woven through American libertarianism—even though it's nearly impossible to do business in space without being a client or recipient of largess from the state. The private space industry today is certainly no different, since NASA and the Pentagon are naturally among such companies' deepest-pocketed customers.

But it would take an anarchist of particularly stern mien to not find some delight and inspiration in Christian Davenport's The Space Barons: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and the Quest to Colonize the Cosmos. No less than four self-made billionaires (add Paul Allen and Richard Branson to Musk and Bezos) were science fiction geeks who grew up willing to burn their fortunes to guarantee humankind will survive the eventual fate of Earth.

Science fiction and the Apollo program made these boys believe that we'd be on Mars and beyond by the time they became men; no one was doing it for them, so they decided to do it themselves. The government and aerospace establishments resisted but now largely play along, if reluctantly at times, with real competition in the quest to build the infrastructure to allow humans to live and work off-planet.

Rockets have exploded. Brave men have died. Progress has been overpromised. But private inventors and entrepreneurs have nonetheless built and operated reusable, potentially passenger-carrying spacecraft. Their efforts will drive the cost of space travel down far enough for civilian ticket buyers to enjoy it. And these nerd billionaires will be the reason space can become a true home for humans. It hasn't happened yet, but Davenport's insightful reporting on the passions and manias that drive the private space industry's leaders makes it seem inevitable.

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