Review: Space Commerce by John L. McLucas

Space Commerce by John McLucas

Space Commerce (Frontiers of Space)
by John McLucas
Reviewed by SSI SA Robert Smith


I learned from this book, a LOT about the Satellite industry. It is truly a Great book; A straight forward history of the business of Space utilization covering all the major players clinically, and taking the mystery out of all those odd names like Inmarsat, Intelsat, ISMA, Comsat/Comstar, AUSSAT, Navstar and so many more.

It makes you understand how great the Shuttle was, and how much more the Shuttle program could have been, and remember that the book was written at a time when some minor changes truly could have made a major difference. (Hindsight is 20/20 but reading what we could have done written at the time we could have done it is a different kettle of fish.)

It tells, matter of factly, how and why the United States quickly dropped from being the monopoly launch nation, to less than 50% in the span of a few short years (according to the Space Foundation the US dropped to 18% in 2009, and, btw, we have never gone up in market share since the day Mr. Carter put one pen to one piece of Space Policy paper).

The above may sound like this is a book of sour grapes. It is not. It tells the history and it tells the names. It tells of people and companies, by name and by project, who invested in NASA and Commercial space over the decades and lost and also of those who won – won BIG. While some of the case-study stories are simply fascinating from a business risk standpoint and even uplifting, a couple are heartbreaking and even somewhat embarrassing for an American (Owen Garriott and the EDO project that NASA took and gave to Rockwell is one that any Space Entrepreneur should know).

I feel it is important that this book finally get a review. I feel it more important that it gets read by folks interested in or involved the business of Space. That said, you should know that the author is not just some starry eyed advocate or Space-At-All-Cost fanatic or sheltered academic.

The author is *that* John L. McLucas. Former DOD Deputy Director of Defense Research & Engineering, Director of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), Administrator of the FAA, Fellow of the AIAA, Secretary of the Air Force, Chairman of NASA’s Advisory Council, Chairman of External Tanks Corporation and board member of Orbital Sciences Corporation, and … just go see his record yourself by googling your way to his bio on AF MIL gov.

Further, the forward to the book was written by Arthur C. Clarke and it is not just a throw-away. Here’s a part of that:

“… Dr. John McLucas, whose own career in aerospace and satellite communications has made an outstanding contribution not only to his country but to the world. In recognition of his achievements, the Centre for Modern Technologies, near my home in Sri Lanka, named John McLucas recipient of the first Arthur Clarke award.”

Lastly it is a very readable book. Very. It is not dumbed down at all, but it is also not over anyone’s head. It is not a geek book of calculations or a tome of spreadsheet printouts. It is a business history book that may not keep you on the edge of your seat, but it will not put you to sleep either.

Taking a chance that I may blow this review, I will try to tease you with a passage from a very short section called “Radiation” in the chapter “Materials Processing”. This very short 5 paragraph subsection is not at all like any other part of the book or even anything like the rest of the same chapter… and I can’t get it out of my head:

“Unfortunately, NASA has been less than successful in persuading Congress that much more work should be done on this subject before we embark on a voyage long enough that a quick return to earth is impossible. Some critics of manned space flight on Capital Hill are said to be using their influence to hold down the amount of research on this subject; this could be an indirect way of slowing the pace of flights to the moon and Mars.”

I hope you buy it and read it. If you think that we can’t learn from a “Space” book from 1991… you may be surprised.

[Space Commerce by John L. McLucas can be found on Amazon by clicking here]

fyi: there is more from this book and how it relates to current industry topics including SSI’s G-Lab on the page: SSI Report on External Tank Applications

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