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Liftoff: Elon Musk and the Desperate Early Days That Launched SpaceX

4.54  ·  Rating details ·  1,469 ratings  ·  193 reviews
"This is as important a book on space as has ever been written and it's a riveting page-turner, too." —Homer Hickam, #1 New York Times Bestselling Author of Rocket Boys

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

SpaceX has enjoyed a miraculous decade. Less than 20 yea
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published March 2nd 2021 by William Morrow
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James Giammona
Apr 06, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great first-hand accounts of the early days of SpaceX and the work that went into getting the Falcon 1 into orbit. Loved reading it!

Some well-meaning constructive criticism. The reason I didn't give this five stars is that it felt rushed and narrow. I feel like there's this whole larger context of what the launch market looked like, why Elon and other engineers thought this was possible financially and engineering-wise with their small team, and what some of the hardest or most elegant design ch
Jun 03, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Ok, so this was actually really fun to read. I didn’t really pay attention to SpaceX until this past year with the launch of the Dragon with a crew to the ISS. Great writing, and a great peek into the early years at SpaceX and the people that worked there.
Dec 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: business, space
Disclaimer: I would like to thank the author and publisher for providing a review copy of this book.

Liftoff by Eric Berger clearly and realistically describes the historic journey of SpaceX as it races from an idea in Elon Musk's mind to literally revolutionizing the aerospace industry. Although the descriptions of SpaceX's accomplishments of designing, building, and launching a rocket into orbit cheaply and quickly are impressive, this is primarily the story of the first employees and their exp
Harsha Varma
If this wasn’t about Musk, it’d be a great sci-fi novel! Enthralling!

1. Immediately after T−0, humans lose all control over a rocket.

2. Starhopper, he explained to the boys, is made from stainless steel, the same stuff in pots and pans. This stainless steel, however, had the look of being left on a stovetop’s open flame for too long.

3. After perusing Starhopper at sunset, he spent several hours touring his rocket shipyard in South Texas.

4. Brian Bjelde was oblivious to Mars’s close approa
Sat Chandra
Jun 09, 2021 rated it really liked it
Its all about Dreams and Speed!
Mar 21, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Loved this one.
Ritesh Menon
May 08, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This book is not about Elon Musk. Rather, it’s about the team that built Space X - their travails, their commitment, their dogged devotion to the end goal. Every good team requires a good captain and while the captain of the Space X team is undoubtedly Elon Musk, he wouldn’t have been as good if it wasn’t for a great team that he put together. This book is all about them. A must read this summer!
Matt Cannon
Apr 17, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book! Some of the details are facts I’ve heard before and some are more in depth stories I don’t think anyone other than those present know. Elon looked on NASA’s site to see their plans for space travel to Mars and was surprised to see they didn’t have a plan. He also decided to build his own rockets when he realized the Russians would always charge more and continue increasing prices. There’s a story of a guy who was working at NASA when his friend from college invited hi ...more
Mitch Berkson
Apr 30, 2021 rated it liked it
I was expecting a breathless hagiography and that's what I got. Very similar in style and concept to The Soul of a New Machine. The workmanlike writing attempts to create lore around the people and minor events that attended the monumentally inspiring achievements of SpaceX.

Though the people it describes did incredible things, their backgrounds and daily hard work are not all that interesting. Perhaps I would prefer a biography of just Musk.
Patrick Pilz
Dec 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Thank you #Netgalley for the Advanced Copy of the book.

Elon Musk, a real-life Tony Stark is certainly one of the biggest inventors of current times. A lot of books have been written about him or the companies he was leading. "Liftoff" by Eric Berger tells the story of SpaceX at the earliest beginning, the times with the biggest setbacks, the story where Elon Musk put everything he had on the line to pursue a goal most people thought is crazy.

Eric Berger tells the story blunt, straight from the g
Apr 13, 2021 rated it it was amazing
When I was a young boy I remember daydreaming about the first tycoons like Vanderbilt or Carnegie, or inventors whose innovations changed the world drastically. I didn’t want to be one, I wanted to live in that era and observe how those new technologies and infrastructure changed peoples lives. Like the first communication technologies of telegram or telephone. Or the advent of the first railroads, enabling people to explore new lands, enabling even poor people with a little money and a lot of c ...more
Mar 13, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
As the title says, "Liftoff: Elon Musk and the Desperate Early Days That Launched SpaceX" is an account of the first years of SpaceX, written by Ars Technica's senior space editor Eric Berger.

The book, focused on the years between SpaceX's founding in 2002 and its first orbital launch in 2008 with a coda summarizing the time after that, is based on a series of interviews with the most important figures of that formative period, from SpaceX's founder Elon Musk to the VPs and senior and junior eng
Apr 13, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Eric Berger, a veteran writer for a science and technology publication called Ars Technica, has penned a remarkable account of what has become the most successful private sector spaceflight organization: SpaceX. For this book, he managed to interview Elon Musk and several of the key people from the earliest years of SpaceX, such as Chris Thompson, Tom Mueller, Hans Koenigsmann, and Gwynne Shotwell. All of these people have shared their memories about the days when the success of SpaceX appeared ...more
Mar 20, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-nonfiction
This is very nearly 5 stars for me (and I may come back and change it yet!), but I'm a sucker for insider engineering stories, even more so if they deal with space travel.

This is a great brisk book on the early days of SpaceX. Don't worry if you suspect you might know a lot of the material already. Chances are, you do not. The book was written and published with Musk's blessing, so it draws on first hand information from interviews with early employees that simply would not be public otherwise.

Mar 06, 2021 rated it really liked it
Given unprecedented access to the current and former employees of SpaceX, including Elon Musk, Mr. Berger of Ars Technica tells the story of the first years of SpaceX. The company was a maverick startup that few people in the industry took seriously. A team of scrappy engineers taking on seemingly impossible challenges, unhampered by the bureacratic trappings of established companies. If you needed something done, you did it. If you needed a piece of kit, you bought it. In classic Silicon Valley ...more
Apr 26, 2021 rated it it was amazing
If you like Elon musk, you’ll like this book.
If you like rockets and/or cutting edge space technology, you’ll like this book.
If you like startup stories, you’ll like this book.

The author does a nice job of balancing the highly technical nature of the work with telling the story. I’m not an engineer, and I found that I could maintain a high level idea of what was going on. However a lot of what they were doing was over my head. The book is basically, “oh sh@t there’s a problem. Let’s fix it!”
Andrey Frolov
Apr 04, 2021 rated it really liked it
The book covers the first few years of SpaceX. To be more precise, it looks mostly at people and the sacrifices they made. How they worked 18 hours days. How they sacrificed their families. How they sleep on the concrete block at the airport entrance. How they had had to dive inside the rocket to open the valve manually in the descending plane to prevent its collapse from the pressure difference. Book has several cool war stores and photos we haven't seen before. I didn't know that they got kick ...more
Ronak Sethiya
Apr 11, 2021 rated it really liked it

SpaceX is a fascinating organisation and not the least because of its incredible rise to technological domination of the space industry.

The book details the journey of SpaceX from a single man operation of Elon Musk towards a successful first launch of the vehicle into the Geo-stationary orbit.

Apart from being a riveting tale of man’s ambition and Musk’s daredevilry it also highlights the power of culture.

I am amazed at how the earlier employees were persuaded by Musk to join the team. And once
Hill Krishnan
Mar 11, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I bet a movie 🎥 is going to be made on this story!:

This book is even better than Elon Musk biography and the books he recommended on rocket 🚀 technology including “Ignition.” Why?
1. It teaches you a highly technical story with characters filled with dreams of one goal—taking a small company’s rocket to orbit despite 3 failures.
2. It shows a leader who doesn’t do the blame game when things go wrong because he personally hand picked 3000 of the team.
3. Devil is in the details: The story shows the
Richard New
Mar 29, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Liftoff, by author Eric Berger, chronicles the desperate early years of the up and coming company called Space Exploration Technologies. The reader will recognize it better by its sexier moniker: SpaceX.

Founded in 2002 by billionaire tech entrepreneur Elon Musk, Berger explores the companies bouncing, rough path to orbit with its first rocket, the Falcon 1, version 3. Berger chronicles the extreme, even reckless, early years of SpaceX as it barely lived and breathed to build each iteration of Fa
Dan Watts
May 09, 2021 rated it it was amazing
We will undoubtedly be seeing a deluge of books about Elon Musk over the coming years, but this isn't one of them. Instead, it focuses on the team of engineers that worked on SpaceX's initial skunkworks project to launch satellites into orbit.

Musk is their leader, both Chief Technology Officer and Chief Financial Officer, but isn't given an outsized role in this book. The engineers, none of whom I'd heard of, are the ensemble team at the heart of the story. Although I knew the eventual outcome,
Jun 12, 2021 rated it really liked it
Super enjoyable story of the early days of SpaceX. A group of young engineers working night and day to build rockets and rocket engines, and trying to launch them from the launch site on a tiny tropical island (Omelek).

The book only covers the early days of SpaceX so may be considered a bit niche for that reason (for example, SpaceX's innovation of landing the first stages of rockets isn't really covered). But the stories are exciting and there's a lot to learn about early stage companies.

The te
Mar 16, 2021 rated it it was amazing
As with many of the readers that picked up this book as soon as it was published, this review is from the perspective of a space enthusiast. For years, SpaceX has been very inspiring for me, and I was already broadly familiar with the events of the early days.

Even still, I blasted through this book in three days, and it has cost me some sleep (in the good way). The story is told incredibly. Berger tells us about the personal sacrifices, the amazing accomplishments, the butt-clenching obstacles.
Apr 18, 2021 rated it it was amazing
If you are fan interested in the story of SpaceX or Elon Musk's quirks this is the real deal. It is pretty much as close as you will get to the official story of how SpaceX hired it's first employees up and operated until the first successful launch from Omelek Island in the Pacific based on interviews with those who were there. This covers the crazy early days and how close they were to becoming bankrupt. Once they had secured the NASA contract to resupply the ISS the company's survival was vir ...more
May 16, 2021 rated it liked it
Interesting look at early SpaceX, but this book doesn't seem to really know or make clear what it is trying to be. Ben Rich's Skunk Works this is not. In this book Berger interviewed a number of current and former employees and tried to piece together an outline of major events. We get a behind the scenes look at the development of their first rockets.

Very little time was spent post-2008. This really limits the impact of this book. We did get a good look at Elon Musk and his involvement and dev
May 16, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This was a great book to go over the early story of SpaceX, it is still amazing that Elon Musk managed to do what many deep pocketed entrepreneur failed to do in rocket launch. It didn’t happen overnight and it required a lot of hard work from many employees at SpaceX. This is the story of how they managed to figure out how to launch rockets from a remote pacific island when they got sandbagged by the Airforce and ULA from using Cape Canaveral, and how they matured as a respectable rocket compan ...more
Apr 11, 2021 rated it really liked it
Great book about the early days of SpaceX. The history behind the Falcon 1 rocket launches is absolutely wild, and it’s inspiring to see what can be accomplished with hard work, risk tolerance, and lots of iteration. The author does a good job outlining the technical concepts behind the rocket design and the several challenges that engineers faced along the way. I also thought the author did a good job making it not all about Elon Musk - there were plenty of other incredible people involved in m ...more
This book does a great job of documenting early SpaceX, especially the first 4 launch attempts of Falcon 1 (of which only the fourth reached orbit). The author spoke to many current and former employees and was given pretty free rein to tell the whole story. Elon's own biography by Vance also focused on the terrible time when the world financial markets had collapsed, Elon was getting divorced, Tesla and SpaceX both desperately needed funding, and the third Falcon 1 launch failed (for a very min ...more
Edward Laauwen
May 11, 2021 rated it it was amazing
The long and winding road that brought SpaceX from being Elon Musk's crazy dream to becoming the most influential space company in the World it is now.

Even though Eric Berger describes everything in minute detail and has obviously interviewed a lot of people, it never gets boring or long-winded. For those who are truly interested, like me, this book can even be described as "an easy read".

Like a lot of people, I've been following SpaceX ever since it began, but much of what is described in this
Kyle Null
May 30, 2021 rated it it was amazing
When discussing famous people, we tend to leave out the massive sacrifices, the risks, and loads of physical & mental stress that got them there.

Often I've found in this life, that your ability to deal with stress tends to dictate how far you can go. The higher you rise, the more pressure and stress you're faced with.

Imagine, if you had $150millon, would you retire and chill for the rest of your life? Or would you divide it in half and make two companies in an effort to change the world?

This b
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Eric Berger is the senior space editor at Ars Technica, covering everything from new space to NASA policy. Eric has an astronomy degree from the University of Texas and a master's in journalism from the University of Missouri. He previously worked at the Houston Chronicle for 17 years, where the paper was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2009 for his coverage of Hurricane Ike. A certified meteorologis ...more

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