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Summary

The dramatic inside story of the first four historic flights that launched SpaceX - and Elon Musk - from a shaky startup into the world's leading edge rocket company. 

In 2006, SpaceX - a brand-new venture with fewer than 200 employees - rolled its first, single-engine rocket onto a launch pad at Kwajalein Atoll. After a groundbreaking launch from the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the Falcon 1 rocket designed by Elon Musk’s engineers rose in the air for approximately 30 seconds. Then, its engine flamed out and the rocket crashed back into the ocean.

When he founded SpaceX, Elon Musk had only budgeted for three launches. After two more failed flight tests, and with only one Falcon 1 rocket left in its factory, SpaceX decided to try one last, dramatic launch. Over eight weeks, engineers worked furiously to prepare this final rocket. If it crashed and burned, so would SpaceX. In September 2008, SpaceX’s last chance for success lifted off...and accelerated like a dream, soaring into orbit flawlessly.

That success would launch a miraculous decade for the company, in which SpaceX grew from building a single-engine rocket to one with a staggering 27 engines, created two different spacecrafts and mastered reusable-rocket descents using mobile drone ships on the open seas. But these achievements would not have been possible without SpaceX’s first four flight tests.

Drawing on unparalleled access and exclusive interviews with dozens of former and current employees - engineers, designers, mechanics and executives, including Elon Musk - Eric Berger tells the complete story of this foundational generation that transformed SpaceX into the world’s leading space company. 

©2021 Eric Berger (P)2021 HarperCollins Publishers Limited

Critic reviews

"Liftoff reads like something out of the Golden Age of Science Fiction, but this isn't a novel by Robert Heinlein or Arthur C. Clarke. This is the true, astounding story of the men and women who spun those sci-fi dreams into reality. This is as important a book on space as has ever been written and it's a riveting page-turner, too!" (Homer Hickam, author of Rocket Boys)

"This might be the best space book I've ever read. Liftoff will prove to be a defining story not only for the commercial space industry, but for the space age writ large, and there's no one better than Eric Berger to tell it." (Kellie Gerardi, author of Not Necessarily Rocket Science)

“This is a book that will hold your rapt attention from start to finish." (Charles Bolden, former NASA administrator and four-time astronaut)

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Inspirational, it’s not about space!!

As a “fan” (term used loosely) of Space X, I have long watched with anticipation their latest space endeavours. I’ve often heard tales of the fledgling Space X, but I’ve always taken them with a pinch of salt.
This book tells the tale of how Space X began, the personal toil of key members of its staff, how an engineer would wear a technicians hat to one meeting and a chefs hat at mealtimes.
It’s worth a read/listen, easily absorb and I found it to be inspiring, I’m not now going to build a rocket, but I do have renewed faith that hard work and personal sacrifice can and inevitably does reap rewards.

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Always go to Eleven

Loved it from the beginning to the end. I couldn't believe how much it seemed like a sci-fi. Remembering that it is a true story - and still in the making, is mind-blowing.
If you are reading the reviews, just stop and get the book, or an audiobook. Rob Shapiro did an amazing job narrating this quintessential read by Eric Berger.

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This is a truly epic and inspiring story

I could not stop listening to this book. Never expected story of a company to be that dramatic and inspiring.

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Fantastic story on SpaceX and Elon Musk

A very good historical book on the early days of SpaceX and Elon Musk. It is very nice to know the inside of the company, the method that they are using to solve problems and to engineer. Very instructive.

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Satisfying dive into the early years of SpaceX

I've followed SpaceX's progress with interest since the early Falcon 9 lauchers, so I really enjoyed Eric Berger's account of the founding and early years of the company. It's amazing to read how close they came to failure in 2008. It was fascinating to learn about many of the key people who gave so much to launch the company onto the extraordinary journey it has since taken. It's clear that Elon was fundamental to the who enterprise and remains at the heart of the Starship project. I look forward to future books looking back at this period in the company's history.

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almost cried at flight 4

passed paces and exciting, what else would you expect from a book about Space X. by the climax of the story you feel you are there with the team willing them to succeed. well done Space X

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Amazing story and insight into the company!

A lot of the time i found myself thinking: "no this can't be for real", like the pressurisation accident on the plane. Such a surreal and captivating story of an equally surreal and captivating company!

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Awesome!

Difficult to put this down. Perfect balance of focussing on people, anecdotes, engineering. Not too rocket technical.

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amazing

one of the best making of stories in history, what musk has built in twenty years may never be replicated

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Must read space book

I enjoyed this book greatly. It was interesting from start to finish with no tedious parts.

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  • Christopher R.
  • 22-07-21

What a Company

The shear determination of Elon Musk and SpaceX is inspiring! What an enjoyable book it is.

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  • Jevaughn Brown
  • 15-03-21

This book proves rocket surgery is a thing

This was an amazing story, series of stories really, of almost unimaginable struggle and stunning triumph. A story of what competence and sheer tenacity can do. The sympathetic focus on the engineers who went all-in with Musk, juxtaposed with Elon's perspective in leading and channeling them, was very enjoyable. Learned details and context and nuance I haven't come across anywhere else. I hope there will be more where this book came from in due time.