Industrialist Marissa Van Hutten has a dream and a nightmare. She longs to see humanity return to the stars, exploring the solar system and given men and women a reason to look up with pride again. But she fears as well. One day in her early twenties she saw a fireball -- huge meteor -- rip through the sky overhead. That moment awakened Marissa to the threat posed by rogue Earth-crossing asteroids -- the sort of extraterrestrial killer that slammed the nails into the dinosaurs' coffins.
But the Earth -- and van Hutten -- is hardly helpless. Marissa helms Van Hutten Industries, an international conglomerate incorporating aerospace and engineering and even educational concerns. They are all arrows aimed at one target -- creating a private space program that will return humanity to space, his time to stay.
The name of the project is Prometheus, and its first and most critical phase involves putting building a reusable, low-cost, single-stage-to-orbit spacecraft. It's a difficult task -- the U.S. government puts serious restrictions on the exportation of launch technologies, and private corporations -- unlike the government -- don't get to pass the laws that govern space shots. The mountains of red tape they must blast through are almost as daunting as getting into space.
Political and legal issues aside, there's the technology itself -- creating a cost-effective SSTO spacecraft is the Holy Grail of modern aerospace companies. It is the key to low-cost access to space, and without it Prometheus' further ventures -- like building a private space station and orbital power plants -- will be all but impossible.
Rekindling the Space Age
Over the last year we've seen the first fledgling steps in a privately-funded push into space. In 2001, Dennis Tito became the first space tourist, paying an estimated $20 million to fly to the international space station Alpha aboard a Russian Soyez capsule. MirCorp -- a company formed to exploit the Mir Space Station -- organized the trip and has proceeded with its space plans undaunted by Mir's fiery demise. In fact, they are looking to put together financing to build their own $200 million space station, while at the same time lining up their second paying customer -- a dot.com millionaire from South Africa.
The Space Age is being rekindled, and those who want a preview of the glorious age that awaits us would do well to read Michael Flynn's Firestar. The first of four books chronicling mankind's return to space, Firestar isn't just about rockets. It is about a revolution in thinking, about reawakening not just a desire to explore space, but a lust for life as well. The book's industrialist heroine doesn't just want to lob rockets into space, but wants to educate a generation of Americans and inspire them to reclaim the birthright laid down by this country's founders. It's a kind of work ethic that's driven by equal parts pride and creativity, and it's refreshingly different the mainstream propaganda favored by the left and the right.
Firestar is a novel inspired by classical liberal ideals, involving lassiez faire politics and economic policies inspired by a belief in capitalism rather than socialism. Libertarians will find a lot to like in the book -- in fact, the Libertarian Futurist Society found so much to like that they honored it with their Prometheus Award. Personally, I found the book to be inspiring an invigorating. In these pages is the sort of future I've always dreamed of, from van Huetten's use of troy ounces of gold to pay her employees, to reinvigorated education, to the test pilots rocketing into space atop the prototype SSTO spacecraft.
The only problems I had with the book involved its main character. Van Huetten's primary motivator is ultimately fear -- fear of asteroid impact. This has a tendency to undercut her personal heroics in launching a space program. I was also disappointed by her relationship with Barry Fast, a teacher in her Mentor program. These provided negative undertones to the book that I found jarring, especially when compared to the drama of the first SSTO launches. These do, however, provide her with-non technical obstacles to deal with, presumably in the later books.
Despite being the first of a four part series, Firestar is a very satisfying and complete read. It's an excellent book for anyone dreaming of a return to space, or looking for well-done introduction to libertarian principles.
- by Michael Flynn
- Tor Science Fiction
- ISBN: 0812530063
- Buy it from Amazon.com