From the Garage to Mars: Memoir of a Space Entrepreneur by Scott Tibbitts; ‎HenschelHAUS Publishing (March 2024); 254 pages; softcover; $24.95.

If you’ve got entrepreneurial dollars aligned with the needed spunk and spine to create a new space company, this book provides an insider, industrial strength look at what kind of roller coaster ride you may encounter.

The author founded Starsys Research Corporation of Boulder, Colorado, an innovative business that, quite literally, had wax flowing through its veins. Starsys pioneered thermal “actuator” technology and mechanical systems for spacecraft – critical items that open, close, deploy, and move components on spacecraft, like opening lens caps.

Such devices can make or break a mission, be it in Earth orbit or crossing the intervening void to reach Mars, Saturn, and elsewhere.

Tibbitts candid and sleep-stealing worries included confronting this self-imagined and calamitous news headline:

“Space Motor Made by Small Space Company in Boulder, Colorado Fails. Billion Dollar NASA Mission Lost. CEO/Entrepreneur Scott Tibbitts says: “I’m stumped…it seemed to be working just fine before we put it on the rocket.”

When NASA’s Spirit rover plopped down on the Red Planet back in 2004, the first pictures transmitted back to Earth included the Starsys logo; the small company had built 27 motors powering the mini-rover and its instruments. “The best product placement ever,” recalls Tibbitts, “one of the coolest things our team ever did.”

While getting to Mars was a company high point, the Starsys track record over a span of 20 years built more than 4,000 devices that flew on 350 spacecraft. As Tibbitts explains, the firm’s success was anchored in a corporate culture that emphasized technical competence bolstered by emphasis on fun and family, team building, and having an easily accessible “Gripe Box” for employees.

In tell-it-like-it-was fashion, the volume is peppered with “Tibbitts Tips,” from the power of play, protecting the price, and the value of 3-day weekends to stop doing what you suck at and let go or be dragged.

In the building of a space company from scratch, the author details both the highs and lows endured, with one chapter bluntly titled: “Entrepreneurial Hell.”

Starsys was acquired by SpaceDev in 2006 with Tibbitts poignantly writing about the angst incurred in “giving up the company I had invested 20 years of my life to create.” SpaceDev was renamed Sierra Nevada Space Systems after a subsequent acquisition in 2008.

This book is well-written, giving the reader a full monty memoir of living on the edge of success to personal upheavals, dealing with tragic and soul-searching events, and what lessons learned were uncovered along the long, winding road.

“I had no idea that seven dollars in hardware-store parts, some wax, and a certainty that, ‘this is so cool. There has to be some use for it…’ would lead to my three-decade journey,” Tibbitts concludes, “which is far from over.”

In short, wax aside, the author himself became an “actuator” and this volume underscores that fact.

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