The Space Barons

Christian Davenport

Overview: The Space Barons is a journalistic account of successful entrepreneurs turning their intellectual and economic resources toward space travel. The central theme pits these men against each other—and against the military-industrial complex that monopolized manned and unmanned flight outside the planet’s atmosphere. The setting for Davenport’s story is well known: the termination of the US shuttle program, the reliance upon Russia for access to the International Space Station, the promise of the Apollo program fading into distant memory, and the evolution of digital computing and the internet. Thus, for Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Richard Branson, the conditions seem ripe for supplementing, or even replacing, the national space program with the logic of free-market capitalism. After all, these so-called barons have built their fortunes and reputations on shrewdly applying new technology to emerging markets. The book chronicles how their efforts to do the same in space, decades in the making, are starting to pay off.

Given the recent national dialogue on an independent military service for space, Davenport’s book is quite timely. Any force operating in the “ultimate high ground” must already navigate a constellation of organizations that is much more diverse and dynamic than in the past. The Space Barons is a useful and entertaining introduction to this subject, full of vignettes about scrappy ways they cut costs and their numerous close calls. Because Davenport jumps back and forth between the main characters, instead of a chapter-by-chapter summary what follows are the main themes he touches on throughout the work and questions to ponder. The most value in Davenport’s easy to read book, however, is less in the factual information and found more in the debates it should inspire.