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When the Heavens Went on Sale

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Member Reviews

I had read Ashlee Vance's book on Elon about 10 years ago and was enthralled. When the Heavens Went on Sale takes the smaller micro view covered in the Elon book and expands it out to the macro of all the privatized space exploration that was taking off at that time.

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WHEN THE HEAVENS WENT ON SALE by Ashlee Vance is subtitled "The Misfits and Geniuses Racing to Put Space Within Reach." One could easily assume that Vance, a feature writer at Bloomberg Businessweek and author of the New Your Times bestseller Elon Musk, would be writing about companies like Musk's SpaceX, Bezos' Blue Origin, and Branson's Virgin Galactic. He does comment on those companies but focuses this text on four others: Planet Labs, Rocket Lab, Astra, and Firefly Aerospace. Vance is adept at combining stories of pivotal events (e.g., the Indian launch resulting in near simultaneous deployment of 88 satellites for Planet Labs) and unusual facts (e.g., from the 1960s to 2020, the number of machines orbiting Earth had increased to roughly 2,500 and "from 2020 to 2022, something astonishing happened: the number of satellites doubled to 5000."). Readers will learn a great deal from this well-written text, particularly as Vance introduces many of the key founders and players, saying, "it was important to me to let them tell their own stories and for you to hear how they talk and think in their own words." WHEN THE HEAVENS WENT ON SALE is full of dreams fulfilled and dreams dashed; it received a starred review from Publishers Weekly ("Vance's feels-like-you're-there storytelling captures the 'spectacular madness' of the moonshots. It's The Right Stuff for the silicon age.").

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A really great book that manages to weave market research, biography, and anecdotes to give a wide yet detailed overview of the space industry.

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I remember enjoying Ashlee Vance's biography of Elon Musk (although it's hard to like his subject nowadays), so I was eager to read the next volume of his space non-fiction saga. And I was not disappointed. Vance is a gifted storyteller, and once again he focuses not on science or technology but on the people behind it, while simultaneously painting a broad panorama of the current state of play in the field.

I learned a lot from this book - he is right that we rarely look up and pay attention to the booming business being created in lower orbit. I am not a techno-optimist, and I am not enthusiastic about satellites constantly photographing everything that happens on the planet, nor am I convinced that ubiquitous Wi-Fi is necessarily a good thing. But we can't turn a blind eye to the revolution that is taking place. The characters in this book seem passionate and sincere, but let's not forget that Mark Zuckerberg, for instance, always talks about connecting people and making the world a better place, not about facilitating genocide in Myanmar or spreading anti-vaxxer disinformation. Still, Vance's enthusiasm for technological breakthroughs is refreshing after so many gloomy and depressing essays I've read lately.

Thanks to the publisher, Ecco, and NetGalley for an advanced copy of this book.

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Fans of Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Paul Allen, Richard Branson, and the privatization of space should celebrate. Three recent books document the 21st-century private space race.

One is Christian Davenport’s book, Space Barons: Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and the Quest to Colonize the Cosmos.

The other is by Tim Fernholz's Rocket Billionaires: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and the New Space Race.

And the most recent is Ashlee Vance's When the Heavens Went on Sale.

Which one should you read?

When the Heavens Went on Sale
Among the three books, I recommend Ashlee Vance's When the Heavens Went on Sale. Although all three books are fabulous, I prefer Vance's book because he focuses exclusively on lesser known companies, such as:

Planet Labs
Rocket Lab

I knew little about these innovative companies, so I loved taking a deep dive into them.

Another reason why Lance's book is best is that it's the most recent. It's available May 9, 2023, whereas the other books have been out for a few years. In the fast-changing space industry, it's best to get the latest info.

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This was an interesting read about a few lesser-known space companies as they attempt to make rockets and satellite launches cheaper and faster. Most people are familiar with SpaceX, Blue Origin, & Virgin Galactic, but this book goes into great depths into a few other smaller space companies, their trials and tribulations, and follows the journey of a few interesting start-up founders in their effort to lead the way into commercialized space. Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in space, rockets, entrepreneurial journeys, or fans of Elon Musk.

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