Test gods


Meet the astronauts leading the way to a new world of space travel. When Richard Branson founded Virgin Galactic in 2004, the goal was simple: to offer civilian space travel by the end of the decade. Fifteen years, a dozen delays and one catastrophic rocket crash later, we are on the verge of space tourism becoming a reality. Nicholas Schmidle has witnessed the fall and rise of Virgin Galactic first-hand. Over the last five years, he has spent thousands of hours at Virgin’s ‘spaceport’ in the Mojave desert, befriending the pilots who are risking their lives to make space tourism a reality. Now, Schmidle offers the definitive inside story of the individuals building this new world of commercial space travel.

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Meet the astronauts leading the way to a new world of space travel.

‘Masterly’ New York Times
‘Riveting’ Scott Kelly
‘Remarkable’ The Times

When Richard Branson founded Virgin Galactic in 2004, his goal was simple: to offer paying customers a trip to space by the end of the decade. Seventeen years, countless delays, and one catastrophic crash later, his space tourism dream may finally be on the verge of becoming a reality.

New Yorker journalist Nicholas Schmidle knows that story intimately. He spent nearly four years embedded with Virgin Galactic at its California hangar, meeting the individuals working to make commercial space travel possible.

Now, Schmidle offers the definitive account of life inside the new space race. Drawing on hundreds of hours of interviews with Virgin’s lead test pilot, Mark Stucky, Test Gods describes the making of a modern astronaut. Schmidle recounts Stucky’s life – from starry-eyed youth to NASA, the Air Force, and Virgin Galactic; and through dozens of gruelling test flights to his first successful trip beyond the earth’s atmosphere.

Along the way, we meet the colourful cast of engineers, executives and mechanics battling to take Virgin to space. There’s Branson, who emerges as an excitable if overoptimistic evangelist for commercial space travel. There’s Mike Moses, Virgin Galactic’s grounded, unflappable president. And there’s Mike Alsbury, the pilot whose momentary miscalculation sends his aircraft crashing into the Mojave Desert – making him one of the first casualties of the new space race.

The result is a compelling examination of the inner lives of a new generation of astronauts. Theirs is a world where the line between lunacy and genius is blurred, and where no sacrifice is too great in pursuit of the dream of space travel.

‘Adventure in its purest form – rich with risk, courage and friendships.’ Bear Grylls

‘A hurtling narrative . . . A fitting twenty-first-century sequel to The Right Stuff.’ Patrick Radden Keefe, author of Say Nothing and Empire of Pain

‘So exciting. A new generation with The Right Stuff.’ Dan Snow

Additional information

Weight 0.687 kg
Dimensions 24.3 × 16.2 × 3 cm










387.8092273 (edition:23)


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