Sunday, July 16, 2023

The Time Has Come by Will Leitch

The Time Has Come by Will Leitch, who also wrote the novel How Lucky, is a short and interesting novel.

This latest work of fiction from Leitch is also set in Athens, Georgia, and tells a story set around Lindbergh’s Pharmacy, run now by Theo Lindbergh after he took it over following the death of his father, Jack.

The book covers various characters separately and then brings them together at the end, with the principles Theo, Daphne (a nurse), Jason (a contractor) and his son Jace, David (who run a music venue and has a daughter named Allie), Karson (an activist with a law degree), Dorothy (a widower whose husband Dennis passed away from covid), and Tina Lamm (a schoolteacher once known as Mommy Mario and whose family was impacted by Jack Lindbergh).

When the Heavens Went on Sale by Ashlee Vance

When the Heavens Went on Sale by Ashlee Vance is a solid book subtitled The Misfits and Geniuses Racing to Put Space Within Reach.

Vance notes Space X and Elon Musk as starting the concept of private companies operating in space, but the bulk of the book is his writing about four other companies, Planet Labs, Rocket Lab, Astra, and Firefly, with each focusing on low-earth orbit rocket and satellite launches. He covers how from the 1960s to 2020, the number of satellites put in space had slowly and steadily increased to about 2,500, and then from 2020 to 2022, the number doubled to 5,000. Over the next decade, though, the figure is projected to be between 50,000 and 100,000 satellites in space. The general trend has been towards making less expensive satellites, and the rockets that take those satellites up, that way failures aren't financially cataclysmic. 

Planet Labs is noted as building small satellites that work in space as clusters, or doves as the company calls them, taking photos of things on earth, and selling access to those images. Planet Labs enables there to be evidence of what's happening on earth, including things like troop movements, weapons buildup, and illegal deforestation, with the idea that images are used for good in the world. Vance covers how Planet Labs was started by people who worked for Air Force General Pete Worden at NASA's Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. 

The second company covered is Rocket Lab, started by Peter Beck in New Zealand, an area nobody would have expected a rocket genius to come from, and the government there created space rules for the first time as Beck's efforts made them required. He was all about rockets, building them and launching them, so that satellites could then catch rides into space. There's also a lot of fascinating content about New Zealand and the self-sufficient, resourceful people who live there. Additionally interesting is how Beck's company was started with a $300K investment that handed over 50% of the company, and Beck bought back almost all of that 50% from the investor, with Rocket Lab then going on to being worth billions. 

Also detailed in the book is Astra, a rocket company in the same space as Rocket Lab, this one based out of Alameda, California, right by Oakland. Interesting about Astra is the hubris of CEO Chris Kemp. There's a ton of compelling stuff about how many failures the company had, with many of the launches occurring at US military property in the Pacific Spaceport Complex on Kodiak Island in Alaska. Astra seemed to have more difficulties than either Planet Labs or Rocket Lab, but the company went public in mid-2021, not based on a string of success, but rather promise, hope, and the chase of money.

The fourth company featured by Vance is Firefly, with it the story of Max Polyakov, an internet entrepreneur from the Ukraine, which contained significant space knowledge from workers there. Firefly was actually founded by Tom Markusic, and then the rocket company went bankrupt and was bankrolled by Max, who let Tom remain in charge. Max was then forced out by the U.S. government based on his Ukrainian background, with concerns that he would feed information to Russia. It's another interesting story from Vance, one to go with those that he tells about the other companies working in space.