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Test Gods: Virgin Galactic and the Making of a Modern Astronaut

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Test Gods is a story about bravery and sacrifice, and the thin line between lunacy and genius. But most of all is it a story about how we all search for meaning in pursuit and fulfillment of our dreams …


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Test Gods is a story about bravery and sacrifice, and the thin line between lunacy and genius. But most of all is it a story about how we all search for meaning in pursuit and fulfillment of our dreams …

30 review for Test Gods: Virgin Galactic and the Making of a Modern Astronaut

  1. 5 out of 5

    Amanda Johnson Barton

    This books was very well written. It shows the ins and outs of Virgin Galactic, the test pilots, and the men (for the most part) in charge of the space tourism company. Schmidle did a great job of being objective - issuing no judgement in either direction. I am left a bit disgusted with Virgin Galactic's "real men don't wear seatbelts" attitude towards safety protocols. I also rather dislike nearly all of the main players in this true story. But I do feel much better informed about VG,, which wa This books was very well written. It shows the ins and outs of Virgin Galactic, the test pilots, and the men (for the most part) in charge of the space tourism company. Schmidle did a great job of being objective - issuing no judgement in either direction. I am left a bit disgusted with Virgin Galactic's "real men don't wear seatbelts" attitude towards safety protocols. I also rather dislike nearly all of the main players in this true story. But I do feel much better informed about VG,, which was the goal.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Brahm

    This is the story of a test pilot named Mark Stucky, centered around his time at Virgin Galactic. Quick "beach read" space non-fic, paced quickly and reminiscent of "The Right Stuff" (not my original idea; stolen from a quote on the back). Common annoyance in nonfiction books: timelines are sometimes unclear, how hard is it to add a year to chapter headers? The really crazy thing that Schmidle just barely articulates at the end of the book is this: in the commercial space race, SpaceX and Blue O This is the story of a test pilot named Mark Stucky, centered around his time at Virgin Galactic. Quick "beach read" space non-fic, paced quickly and reminiscent of "The Right Stuff" (not my original idea; stolen from a quote on the back). Common annoyance in nonfiction books: timelines are sometimes unclear, how hard is it to add a year to chapter headers? The really crazy thing that Schmidle just barely articulates at the end of the book is this: in the commercial space race, SpaceX and Blue Origin developed automated ballistic rockets to reach space. This is a super efficient way to get into space and back. Virgin Galactic built an analog-driven, manually-piloted spaceplane that is dropped off another plane. The additional complexity and the dependency on human judgement has unfortunately resulted in tragedy to date. It will be interesting to see the future of Virgin Galactic, which is now a publicly-traded company (after a SPAC takeover, a.k.a. "reverse IPO") and accountable to shareholders looking for growth. If my understanding is correct there have been exactly zero commercial flights to date. A worthy read for the space geeks out there.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Pbloom

    I ordered this book after hearing the author at a reading. It is the perfect complement to the Michael Collins "Carrying the Fire" that I also reviewd. Virgin Galactica has been in the news recently with a crazy financing event and a successful trip to space yesterday. If you are thinking of investing in the company (No) or going on a space tourism flight (No) this book is mandatory reading. It's really two gripping stories being told in tandem. One is about the manic quest for private companies t I ordered this book after hearing the author at a reading. It is the perfect complement to the Michael Collins "Carrying the Fire" that I also reviewd. Virgin Galactica has been in the news recently with a crazy financing event and a successful trip to space yesterday. If you are thinking of investing in the company (No) or going on a space tourism flight (No) this book is mandatory reading. It's really two gripping stories being told in tandem. One is about the manic quest for private companies to take tourists into space. Suffice it to say that if you think that's a crazy idea, you won't be dissuaded after reading about all the mistakes, hype and tragedy associated with that quest. The other story woven through the book is a compelling account of what it takes to be a test pilot and astronaut. The author had unfettered access (for a while) and does a great job of humanizing the people who have a job that is so technically demanding and dangerous that it's hard to understand how anyone survives it. I learned a lot about bleeding edge technology and a particularity unique aspect of human nature. The book is not overly long and I was locked-in to the dual narratives until the last page. I will be watching developments in the space tourism business with a lot more knowledge and a LOT more admiration for the engineers and pilots who are devoting their careers and lives (literally) to pursuing the quest.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Susan Paxton

    Someone told Nicholas Schmidle to take his New Yorker article about Virgin Galactic and expand it to book length. Bad move. Test Gods, more or less, is about Mark Stucky, a retired military and NASA pilot who has served as a test pilot first for Scaled Composites and then for Virgin Galactic in quest of getting Sir Richard Branson's dream of flying wealthy parasites into "space" off the ground. The book is unutterably a mess - poorly organized, often sketchily written. If anyone can decipher Stuc Someone told Nicholas Schmidle to take his New Yorker article about Virgin Galactic and expand it to book length. Bad move. Test Gods, more or less, is about Mark Stucky, a retired military and NASA pilot who has served as a test pilot first for Scaled Composites and then for Virgin Galactic in quest of getting Sir Richard Branson's dream of flying wealthy parasites into "space" off the ground. The book is unutterably a mess - poorly organized, often sketchily written. If anyone can decipher Stucky's pre-Scaled Composites career as described here, let me know. Stucky himself is portrayed as a man-child: a brilliant pilot whose first wife is just a drag and then disposed of because she doesn't want him to play all the time, a wannabe astronaut who didn't quite make it into the program, a guy whose hobbies are deadly but hey, he's living life to the fullest, right? At which point my reaction is whatever. I'm not entirely sure if Schmidle was massively playing up the "Right Stuff" angle early in the book, because by the end Stucky is considerably more admirable and sympathetic as a person, and seems to be one of the few people involved who takes the program entirely seriously, including the safety aspects. Schmidle does his best to dance around safety issues at both Scaled Composites and Virgin Galactic. At Scaled, a rocket motor explodes during testing and spectators not in the bunker where they ought to have been are blown to pieces (Mythbusters took better safety precautions with explosives than Scaled, frankly); the first example of SpaceShipTwo crashes because one of Stucky's colleagues makes a mistake described as "inexplicable," but quite explicable when later in the book after the replacement vehicle has been handed over to Virgin we see Stucky watching another test pilot on the program running the vehicle out of RCS gas because he has no clue how to handle the system and refused to listen to Stucky's warnings. Stucky, meanwhile, has been reaching out to an engineer from the X-15 program looking for useful clues on how to deal with the vehicle's control issues, which seem to strangely unworry the engineers at Virgin Galactic. When the most interesting, indeed sympathetic character, in a book is billionaire Branson (although Stucky hits that level by the end), you have a problem. When there are entire sections you can't quite follow, that's also a problem. I wanted to like this - there are sections that are just excellent and Schmidle is a solid descriptive writer - but mostly it's tedious, sketchily organized, and spends too much time admiring a project that is in real terms absolutely worthless.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Bob

    Summary: An account of Virgin Galactic’s effort to become a space tourism company focusing on the intersection of Richard Branson’s vision and the work of test pilots and engineers to make it work. On July 11, 2021, Virgin Galactic, Sir Richard Branson’s space tourism company achieved its first fully crewed flight with Branson aboard. This was the culmination of a seventeen-year program that began when Branson joined forces with Burt Rutan of Scaled Composites to design an air-launched space ship Summary: An account of Virgin Galactic’s effort to become a space tourism company focusing on the intersection of Richard Branson’s vision and the work of test pilots and engineers to make it work. On July 11, 2021, Virgin Galactic, Sir Richard Branson’s space tourism company achieved its first fully crewed flight with Branson aboard. This was the culmination of a seventeen-year program that began when Branson joined forces with Burt Rutan of Scaled Composites to design an air-launched space ship that would land like a plane. Test Gods traces this history through 2019, centered on one of the key test pilots throughout the program, Mark Stucky. The author, Nicholas Schmidle, the son of an ace fighter pilot, was embedded with the company for four years, from 2014 to 2018 and became close to Stucky. He traces the design and testing of what was initially called Spaceship Two and the launch vehicle White Knight Two. Space vehicle development has been dotted with disasters and the Virgin Galactic program was no exception. He describes the tragedy of the fuel tank explosion during rocket development in 2007 in which three engineers died. Then the testing program begins, first, captive flights, attached to White Knight Two, then glide flights and finally longer and longer rocket flights. Each pushes an unknown envelope that often comes with new control problems. Stucky does many of these, and the line between temporary losses of control or anomalies and disaster was a thin one. Each time leads to modifications that improve the vehicle. Then came the setback that delayed the program several years and led to the separation of Virgin Galactic from Scaled Composites. On a flight Stucky did not fly in 2014, fellow test pilot Mike Alsbury had his first experience of going transonic in the vehicle, and in the exhilaration made the fatal error of deploying the “feather,” a kind of air brake that should not have been deployed during the transonic phase. Stucky saw it unfold in the control room, realized the fatal error that Alsbury was making, and witnessed the subsequent breakup of the vehicle. Alsbury died; his co-pilot Pete Siebold survived. It wasn’t until 2016 that Virgin Galactic would fly. This gave time to address safety issues and pilot training arising from the crash. Stucky was a key, in setting a tone of rigor in flight training. Finally, on December 13, 2018, Stucky and co-pilot C.J. Sturckow reached Mach 3.0 and an altitude of 51.4 miles, and received their astronaut wings. Schmidle explores what made Stucky so successful–the combination of risk and preparation. It turns out his most serious injuries were a couple paragliding episodes. His work destroyed his marriage and Schmidle explores his eventual reconciliation with his children, including son Dillon, present at that December 2018 flight. It also causes the author to reflect on his relationship with his own father, whose footsteps he didn’t follow. One of the most fascinating interactions was that between test pilots and engineers. For the engineers, it was often the case that they always wanted to make things safer, especially after the crash, whereas the test pilots wanted to know if it was safe enough–they understood there was always risk, both known and unknown. The material on Branson is interesting. On the one hand are his “vapor” promises of being able to do commercial flights as early as 2011, mostly to attract investors and customers. Yet he never compromised safety. And later on when Mohammed bin Salman offered him $1 billion, he left the money on the table. He would not take the money of the man who ordered the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Branson was the one who did all the interviews after the July flight. What this book fills out is the story of all those who contributed to that success, especially the test pilots (and their wives or partners who lived with the fear of every flight), and the engineers who built the rocket motors and space craft. This is a great inside look at one private space company, and what a challenging goal they have already achieved, albeit at great cost. ____________________________ Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

  6. 4 out of 5

    WM D.

    Virgin gods was a wonderful book. When I first saw it at the library and read the reviews. I liked it from the start but after reading some of the book. I Was disappointed. It wasn’t about astronauts but about something else. A must read for anyone who likes history books

  7. 4 out of 5

    Florence

    Test pilots are a rare breed; daring, seemingly fearless, sometimes a bit reckless. Each time they fly death is there to greet them in the thin air closer to outer space. Nicholas Schmidle gets to the heart of what makes them tick. Along with the rare triumph of a brief thrust into weightlessness there are tragedies and near misses. The author's father was a test pilot and he ponders fatherhood past and present while imbedding himself in the working gears of Virgin Galactic. It's quite a trip. Test pilots are a rare breed; daring, seemingly fearless, sometimes a bit reckless. Each time they fly death is there to greet them in the thin air closer to outer space. Nicholas Schmidle gets to the heart of what makes them tick. Along with the rare triumph of a brief thrust into weightlessness there are tragedies and near misses. The author's father was a test pilot and he ponders fatherhood past and present while imbedding himself in the working gears of Virgin Galactic. It's quite a trip.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Algernon

    Schmidle's writing picks you up and carries you along, such that it is easy to forget how carefully and deeply reported this book is, representing several years of interviews and research into the technology with which Virgin Galactic hopes to launch tourists and others onto suborbital flights using horizontally-launched space planes rather than the kind of rockets being used by competitors. The reporting is very good, breaking down how it works for non-specialists in enough detail to demystify Schmidle's writing picks you up and carries you along, such that it is easy to forget how carefully and deeply reported this book is, representing several years of interviews and research into the technology with which Virgin Galactic hopes to launch tourists and others onto suborbital flights using horizontally-launched space planes rather than the kind of rockets being used by competitors. The reporting is very good, breaking down how it works for non-specialists in enough detail to demystify it somewhat, without bogging down in technical detail that would detract from a story that is ultimately about people - mainly test pilots and engineers, and how they make decisions about risk in order to power leaps of achievement.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    This is a well written book about the pilots and crew of the men who are attempting to make Virgin Galactic a viable space tourism company. The author was there to see firsthand and interview many until he wasn’t. Mainly dealing with Mark Stucky and his dream to become an astronaut, but it also the other dreamers who want to male space tourism a reality. I am not a big fan of non-fiction, but wanted to read this one because as a child I dreamed of being an astronaut once.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jake Genachowski

    Incredible book - this is NOT a story about Richard Branson and billionaires who want to go to space to stroke their egos. This is about the real men and women whose bravery and flight dreams actually make these programs go.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Shelley Parker-Chan

    It was funny to recognize all the bits of the New Yorker article scattered throughout the text—and impressive to think about how radically it all got restructured into this (successful) book-length narrative. I really liked it, including the meta element about the author and his relationship to his own fighter pilot father. I was curious about the fact that Stucky was half-Puerto Rican, and his first wife was Black, both of which seem relevant given the highly white world of military aviation, b It was funny to recognize all the bits of the New Yorker article scattered throughout the text—and impressive to think about how radically it all got restructured into this (successful) book-length narrative. I really liked it, including the meta element about the author and his relationship to his own fighter pilot father. I was curious about the fact that Stucky was half-Puerto Rican, and his first wife was Black, both of which seem relevant given the highly white world of military aviation, but that never got explored, sadly.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Doug

    Test Gods is a prime example of the pitfall of being too close to one's subject. The author spent four years following test pilot Mark Stucky around. Long stretches of the book are given over to hero worship and the author's personal journey between his fighter pilot father and what he wants to teach his own sons. Not exactly compelling or relevant if you're expecting a detailed take on Virgin Galactic and their 15-year odyssey of protracted and expensive missteps. There's a paucity of technical Test Gods is a prime example of the pitfall of being too close to one's subject. The author spent four years following test pilot Mark Stucky around. Long stretches of the book are given over to hero worship and the author's personal journey between his fighter pilot father and what he wants to teach his own sons. Not exactly compelling or relevant if you're expecting a detailed take on Virgin Galactic and their 15-year odyssey of protracted and expensive missteps. There's a paucity of technical details, with not even basic numbers as to weight, thrust, payload capacity, etc. Schmidle will often recount the what but not the why, such as telling us of a terrifying flat spin that Stuckey experiences but not the cause of the spin or what was done to fix it. There are strange technical errors, like claiming if the reaction control system fails a spacecraft can "drift off" and become "another heavenly body". No. Schmidle doesn't come across as interested or knowledgeable in any kind of in-depth technical or business analysis. I worked with a former employee of The Spaceship Company and the stories he told me are far more revealing than what's in this book. False economy led to near-disaster and expensive mistakes, such as when cheaping out on a $300 air valve led to the near-loss of the spacecraft when the air pressure necessary to operate the feather leaked out from both the main and reserve tanks. There is something of an overview of the company, but at a superficial level and doesn't really tell you why things went wrong. Why did the management let things drift? What were the fundamental technical flaws? Does the business case have any plausible chance of recovering the investment? How does New Mexico feel about their empty spaceport? You won't find the answers here.

  13. 5 out of 5

    LeAnne M Weimer

    Two Years Turned Thirteen-ish From my husband, Geoff: Test Gods is an exceptionally well written collection of accounts that add immense meaning to an already riveting main story. Nicholas gives credit to a host of professionals who helped make this a masterpiece, but he deserves all the credit for what clearly required all of his focus, passion and energy for several years. His main subject, Forger, had my attention long ago. I was the Operations Group Superintendent and Chief of Maintenance at Two Years Turned Thirteen-ish From my husband, Geoff: Test Gods is an exceptionally well written collection of accounts that add immense meaning to an already riveting main story. Nicholas gives credit to a host of professionals who helped make this a masterpiece, but he deserves all the credit for what clearly required all of his focus, passion and energy for several years. His main subject, Forger, had my attention long ago. I was the Operations Group Superintendent and Chief of Maintenance at one of his USAF assignments, and took his phone call Monday morning after dust devil number one as he expressed why he wasn't on the morning manifest. My mind was blown when he showed up what seemed like just days later in his plastic torso contraption, doing everything possible to get back in the seat and, more importantly, to stay immersed with the teams that provided that seat. So many bureaucratic processes could have gotten in the way of his next ride, and he made all the right moves to keep the path clear. This book opened my eyes to so much more than I could have gathered about Forger in that highly compartmentalized setting so many years ago. Thanks so much, Nicholas, for doing the hard work and engaging all the right resources to perfectly blend so many lives and stories into the kind of book I just can't put down. Be proud!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Greg Stoll

    I got this book after reading the recent New Yorker article about the red warning light that came on when Richard Branson flew into space (also by Schmidle), and it's a pretty good read! It focuses on Mark Stucky, a former pilot for Scaled Composites and Virgin Galactic (who was fired after the book came out) who was the first pilot to take SpaceShipTwo up to space but was increasingly critical of Virgin for their safety attitude. It's a compelling read if you're into spaceflight! Scaled Composit I got this book after reading the recent New Yorker article about the red warning light that came on when Richard Branson flew into space (also by Schmidle), and it's a pretty good read! It focuses on Mark Stucky, a former pilot for Scaled Composites and Virgin Galactic (who was fired after the book came out) who was the first pilot to take SpaceShipTwo up to space but was increasingly critical of Virgin for their safety attitude. It's a compelling read if you're into spaceflight! Scaled Composites is a company that basically builds aircraft prototypes that push the envelope, and their safety attitude is more or less what you'd expect; they're not reckless, but they do rely on highly-trained test pilots to do things exactly right, and eschew adding safety features because they add complexity. During a test flight in 2014 the plane was destroyed and one pilot was killed because he deployed the braking mechanism too early (no one is sure why). After Virgin Galactic took over the program Stucky convinced them to add a more prominent indicator for whether they were supersonic or not. Odds and ends: - In 1956 Navy test pilot Tom Attridge was going around the speed of sound, fired his guns, caught up with his own bullets and shot himself down! (he survived) - On the way to one of his flights, Stucky picked up a hitchhiker on the way to work; he figured his day was already so risky that adding the risk of picking up a hitchhiker wouldn't change much! - Richard Branson was looking for investors in Virgin Galactic and had a potential deal with Saudi royal Mohammad bin Salman. But then Jamal Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate, and Branson refused to accept money from someone complicit in that. Good for him!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Gloria Cangahuala

    Please note: I received an ARC in exchange for an unbiased review. "Test Gods" is a fascinating insider account of the development of Virgin Galactic's space travel program. Author Nicholas Schmidle, a reporter, was allowed near-unfettered access for four years, attending meetings, meeting all the involved personnel, watching test flights, socializing with the pilots and engineers. What resulted was a rare insider view into what it takes to develop a privately-funded space program. Schmidle also Please note: I received an ARC in exchange for an unbiased review. "Test Gods" is a fascinating insider account of the development of Virgin Galactic's space travel program. Author Nicholas Schmidle, a reporter, was allowed near-unfettered access for four years, attending meetings, meeting all the involved personnel, watching test flights, socializing with the pilots and engineers. What resulted was a rare insider view into what it takes to develop a privately-funded space program. Schmidle also touches on NASA, as well as Space-X and Blue Origin, the other two well-known privately-funded space companies -- each, like Virgin, run by billionaires -- that are considered Virgin Galactic's competition. What made this book extra interesting for me is that my husband, infant son, and I had driven out to the Mojave Desert to watch the launch of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipOne in 2004. My husband works in aerospace, and space exploration has always been a part of our family's life. So it was incredibly interesting for me to read about the pilots and engineers involved in the development and testing of SpaceShipOne and then SpaceShipTwo. The only reason I don't give this book 5 stars is that at times it felt a little disjointed, hopping from one focus to another, from Virgin Galactic's pilots to the author's father, so that it went from third-person reporting to first-person memoir. Although ultimately I understood how the parts about the author's father fit in, I was startled when the book shifted to first-person viewpoint. I think the book could have been more tightly edited, but then again, I was reading an ARC, so I don't know how different the final published version is. Regardless, I enjoyed this book very much.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    Thank you to the publisher, Henry Holt & Co., for forwarding me a gifted copy of this book to review! *DISCLAIMER: All opinions are my own and I was not compensated in any way for my review* 🚀🚀🚀 RATING: 4/5 “I traveled to the moon, said Buzz Aldrin. ‘But the most significant voyage of my life began when I returned.’” Growing up and even into adulthood, I loved learning about space. I think it’s amazing what human beings have been able to accomplish through space travel and flight. When I heard about Thank you to the publisher, Henry Holt & Co., for forwarding me a gifted copy of this book to review! *DISCLAIMER: All opinions are my own and I was not compensated in any way for my review* 🚀🚀🚀 RATING: 4/5 “I traveled to the moon, said Buzz Aldrin. ‘But the most significant voyage of my life began when I returned.’” Growing up and even into adulthood, I loved learning about space. I think it’s amazing what human beings have been able to accomplish through space travel and flight. When I heard about Test Gods, which is about Virgin’s journey to commercialize space flight from the perspectives of the test pilots, I geeked out at the chance to learn more about the people who worked behind the scenes. However, if you’re not a fan of space/aeronautics, then this book might not be a good fit for you. Although I thought it was interesting, there was often a lot of jargon used that wasn’t well explained. I had no idea of the lengths Virgin went to try and put together a space program but as I learned, they achieved more than they could’ve imagined but at great cost. The best part of this story was seeing experiences of the test pilots and other members of the program. You can feel the camaraderie between the pilots and it was a nice touch to see the author’s own personal connection to the program. While I disliked the lack of diversity in Virgin’s program and how they lacked consistent safety protocols, I respected the group’s shared goals to get to space. Their shared history evolved in ways I didn’t expect and at times Test Gods felt like I was reading an action-packed fiction novel.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    Test Gods by Nicholas Schmidle is not only about Virgin Galactic and their race to become the first private company to offer space tourism. It is also a story about the test pilots, mainly Mark Stucky, who are working towards making this a reality. Well researched and rich with detail about Virgin, its people and its mission. It made me long to have the financial resources to one day be a space tourist. The author was embedded with Virgin Galactic for four years and was given unprecedented access Test Gods by Nicholas Schmidle is not only about Virgin Galactic and their race to become the first private company to offer space tourism. It is also a story about the test pilots, mainly Mark Stucky, who are working towards making this a reality. Well researched and rich with detail about Virgin, its people and its mission. It made me long to have the financial resources to one day be a space tourist. The author was embedded with Virgin Galactic for four years and was given unprecedented access to engineers, test pilots and others who were, and continue to be, instrumental in making Richard Branson’s dream of space tourism come true. Therefore, the reader gets an unusually in-depth look at the day-to-day operations of the company. He is frank in reporting both the failures and the triumphs and I appreciate that he did not paint everything in a rosy light. There is a lot of technical details in this story and as a non-technical person I appreciate that the author did not bore me with too much of it. For me, it was just the right amount of information that I understand (mostly) what the author was trying to explain. However, I get that there are some technical people out there who may feel the explanations were lacking. Let me point out that the intended audience is the general reading populous who is undoubtedly as ignorant about the tech side of space as I am. I just happen to be a reader who is fascinated with all things space and I got just the right amount of story to tech for my tastes. Kudos to the author for that one! If you enjoyed Michener’s novel Space, then this is a book for you. Filled with lots of first-hand accounts and tidbits that only someone close to the operations would know. I found it fascinating. I received a free copy in exchange for my honest review. For more of my reviews, and author interviews, see my blog at www.thespineview.com.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Sally Mander

    TEST GODS by Nicholas Schmidile I didn't care for the title of the book, though the non-fiction aspect of test pilots was intriguing. The book follows Mark Stucky in his personal quest for NASA. Unfortunately, NASA rejected him repeatedly and he was able to find fulfilling work as a test pilot. We learn the history of Virgin Galactic and what it meant to that company to possibly get the first tourist space ships into operation. They had to design the properly shaped space ships, design a fuel that TEST GODS by Nicholas Schmidile I didn't care for the title of the book, though the non-fiction aspect of test pilots was intriguing. The book follows Mark Stucky in his personal quest for NASA. Unfortunately, NASA rejected him repeatedly and he was able to find fulfilling work as a test pilot. We learn the history of Virgin Galactic and what it meant to that company to possibly get the first tourist space ships into operation. They had to design the properly shaped space ships, design a fuel that could propel the ships "out of this world," and find pilots who kept their cool and were able to fly out of our atmosphere. When you think of being a space tourist, you'd probably think that only a select few of the world's richest inhabitants would be able to afford a seat, you'd be right. Space tourism isn't for the middle class or lower classes. Probably not even many years into the future. It's just not affordable. But, it's okay to dream about it. That's what Virgin Galactic started with, was a dream. Many thanks to #henryholt #nicholasschmidle for the complimentary copy of #testgodsvirgingalacticandthemakingofamodernastronaut #testgods I was under no obligation to post a review.

  19. 5 out of 5

    David Kilian

    Poor ending The book ends poorly, it just drifts off to sleep. There is no end point or ending based on actual events. It is possible the author wanted to publish before Branson’s flight or some similar event, so just submitted it to the publisher in the state that it was. One hopes there will be a revision that finishes better. For a book called Test Gods, it spends too much time on the author’s father and the author, neither of which are test pilots. The content about Virgin Galactic and the pilo Poor ending The book ends poorly, it just drifts off to sleep. There is no end point or ending based on actual events. It is possible the author wanted to publish before Branson’s flight or some similar event, so just submitted it to the publisher in the state that it was. One hopes there will be a revision that finishes better. For a book called Test Gods, it spends too much time on the author’s father and the author, neither of which are test pilots. The content about Virgin Galactic and the pilots was great, but it seems that there was an attempt to fill what otherwise would have been thin content by writing fairly extensively about the author’s father. Finally the ebook version does not include footnotes in the text, but about 35% of the book is footnotes. Probably better in hard copy. A good story, but it probably would have been better as long magazine article as it does quite fill a book.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Vincent

    After receiving this book in a Goodreads giveaway started to read. Being a bit of a science dilettante I do try to keep up with what's new in the world of math and science. This book takes you behind the scenes of Virgin Galactic through the life of a single (mostly) test pilot. There is a little "blurring of the lines" as the author - early on - discovers a connection between his family and his subject. Overall, an interesting inside look at the commercial spaceflight industry. With the latest ne After receiving this book in a Goodreads giveaway started to read. Being a bit of a science dilettante I do try to keep up with what's new in the world of math and science. This book takes you behind the scenes of Virgin Galactic through the life of a single (mostly) test pilot. There is a little "blurring of the lines" as the author - early on - discovers a connection between his family and his subject. Overall, an interesting inside look at the commercial spaceflight industry. With the latest news of Jeff Bezos and "Blue Origin," it's a timely book. The "larger than life" Richard Branson features in the story, mostly anecdotally. From "nuts and bolts" to feelings and ambitions it's a thrilling ride. It begs the question: "What's Next?" Well, enjoy the book whatever comes to pass in the newspapers.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Patrick Pilz

    It is an interesting story, right along the stories of "The Right Stuff" by Tom Wolfe and certainly extremely well written and told. While it certainly makes todays Astronauts approachable, once cannot ignore the fact that this is almost a swan song of a rocket company. Virgin Galactic was certainly ambitious, but their flight apparatus is mothballed and may not fly again. It seems to be the first loser in the race of private business to space. Nicholas Schmidle had the pleasure to be along for It is an interesting story, right along the stories of "The Right Stuff" by Tom Wolfe and certainly extremely well written and told. While it certainly makes todays Astronauts approachable, once cannot ignore the fact that this is almost a swan song of a rocket company. Virgin Galactic was certainly ambitious, but their flight apparatus is mothballed and may not fly again. It seems to be the first loser in the race of private business to space. Nicholas Schmidle had the pleasure to be along for some of that ride and just had to write it down, after spending so much time and effort in following the story. He could not have known the ending, and his account about a 3rd place finisher in the space race is enjoyable to read for the people deeply interested in the race.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Spen Cer

    As someone fascinated with this type of science and exploration. I found this book interesting and honest. Not everything works like press releases and this book goes beyond the headlines. I almost knocked a star off for some of the personal reflection but it does come around to complete the story arc at the end. Also to those complaining about any safety issues or the reason for the endeavour in the first place, I can’t help but feel you’d be the same people who would’ve cancelled Apollo after A As someone fascinated with this type of science and exploration. I found this book interesting and honest. Not everything works like press releases and this book goes beyond the headlines. I almost knocked a star off for some of the personal reflection but it does come around to complete the story arc at the end. Also to those complaining about any safety issues or the reason for the endeavour in the first place, I can’t help but feel you’d be the same people who would’ve cancelled Apollo after Apollo 1. Risks are necessary and in this liability obsessed world, if our technical progression slows it’s because of comments like Susan’s. Companies being scared to take real unnecessary risks is damaging to all of us.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Brendan

    I don’t believe that an extension of a journal article has been this well written since Krakauer’s Into Thin Air. A light book which eschews focus on technical details and instead homes in on the pilots who permit these envelope expanding missions to move forward. There are some large pieces that he missed (an analysis of Virgin going public being the most glaring), but shortening the business analysis to only a few throwaway sentences seems purposeful: Schmidle is telling the reader, I know thi I don’t believe that an extension of a journal article has been this well written since Krakauer’s Into Thin Air. A light book which eschews focus on technical details and instead homes in on the pilots who permit these envelope expanding missions to move forward. There are some large pieces that he missed (an analysis of Virgin going public being the most glaring), but shortening the business analysis to only a few throwaway sentences seems purposeful: Schmidle is telling the reader, I know this other stuff exists, but it isn’t what I’m here to talk about. It works. This book is, at its core, about test pilots working with a cool launch system that will likely be extinct in a quarter of a century or less.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Carty

    I love any chance to learn more about the aerospace industry, but it's a bonus when the facts and figures are crafted into a deeper, compelling narrative. Virgin Galactic did a great thing letting the author in for their wild ride! He did a remarkable job getting the technical and the heartfelt to mesh. I personally felt the second half of the book was much better than the first, but overall it was a thoroughly informative and enjoyable read. I'm finishing this story a little changed and inspire I love any chance to learn more about the aerospace industry, but it's a bonus when the facts and figures are crafted into a deeper, compelling narrative. Virgin Galactic did a great thing letting the author in for their wild ride! He did a remarkable job getting the technical and the heartfelt to mesh. I personally felt the second half of the book was much better than the first, but overall it was a thoroughly informative and enjoyable read. I'm finishing this story a little changed and inspired for my own aerospace journey.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Mimijo

    Loved this book. Focusing on Mark Stucky, the main test pilot for Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic commercial space program, it's about extreme risk taking and the drive that compels people to push the envelope of the possible. The book is also a stirring meditation on father/son relationships -- Stucky's with his son Dillon; the author's as the reflective, literarily-inclined son of a macho, Top Gun fighter pilot, and as the father of two young sons. Propulsive (an apt word in this case) story Loved this book. Focusing on Mark Stucky, the main test pilot for Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic commercial space program, it's about extreme risk taking and the drive that compels people to push the envelope of the possible. The book is also a stirring meditation on father/son relationships -- Stucky's with his son Dillon; the author's as the reflective, literarily-inclined son of a macho, Top Gun fighter pilot, and as the father of two young sons. Propulsive (an apt word in this case) storytelling combined with emotional depth.

  26. 4 out of 5

    David

    Schmidle spends time with Virgin Galactic, getting to the know pilots of SpaceShipTwo. Virgin has dreams of sending passengers into space (a sub-orbit, but still space). In an era when NASA seems uninspired (at least for human missions) and when private industry is going into space, reading about one of those companies is illustrative and insightful. The author’s father is was a revered pilot, so part of this book is a memoir and a coming-to-terms of fathers and sons.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jenn

    I won a copy of this book. A look behind the making of a rocket ship and everyone that is involved with it. There are so many little things that go into making these ships as safe as possible, but things can always go wrong. This is just a really interesting book for anyone who is interested in the mechanics of modern space travel.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Bridgette

    Test Gods: Virgin Galactic and the Making of a Modern Astronaut by Nicholas Schmidle is a very well written book. It is a great story about the test pilots, engineers and visionaries of the Virgin Galactic space program. This book is an enjoyable read for all those who enjoy space. It is easy to comprehend and hard to put down once you begin. Highly recommend!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Aimee

    "Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth." I don't know many people who aren't at least somewhat fascinated by space and space flight/exploration. Now, with Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin mere days away from sending their respective billionaire owners into suborbital flight, this is the perfect time to pick up Test Gods. Test Gods focuses on Virgin Galactic - the triumphs (and tragedies) of the company as they have worked towards making commercial spaceflight a reality. The main "character" h "Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth." I don't know many people who aren't at least somewhat fascinated by space and space flight/exploration. Now, with Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin mere days away from sending their respective billionaire owners into suborbital flight, this is the perfect time to pick up Test Gods. Test Gods focuses on Virgin Galactic - the triumphs (and tragedies) of the company as they have worked towards making commercial spaceflight a reality. The main "character" here is Mark Stucky, one of Virgin Galactic's test pilots. Stucky is a complicated man, and his passion for flight has often interfered with his personal relationships. But he's whip-smart and quite possibly one of the bravest humans on the planet (and, sometimes, off of it). Test Gods also has an underlying theme of the relationships between fathers and sons - and the author ties in stories about his own father (there's a fascinating connection revealed later on in the book!) Thank you Henry Holt for the ARC!

  30. 5 out of 5

    Annabelle

    A well written and thoroughly researched account of a test pilot’s journey to becoming an astronaut with Virgin Galactic. A bit technical at times, but still able to build tension before launch days. A call to dream.

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