The Magic and Menace of SpaceShipOne by Brian Binnie; Black Sky Enterprise; 500 pages; October 4, 2020; Ordering information at:

This is an extraordinary book and it is a true, “can’t put it down” volume. Binnie is a former United States Navy officer and test pilot for SpaceShipOne, the experimental spaceplane created by aeronautical pioneer, Burt Rutan, and his innovative company, Scaled Composites.

On October 4, 2004, with Binnie at the controls of SpaceShipOne, he flew the second suborbital flight in one week’s time to capture the $10 million Ansari X Prize flight purse. That pioneering passage of space and time marked a new era of commercial space flight. How the author claimed his rocket ride into the history books is an entrancing story.

“Spaceships are dangerous things. There are no intentions implied to suggest otherwise,” Binnie writes. And that’s found well before the main text, carried on the “All rights reserved” page.

The author is far from being reticent, scripting an absorbing, humbling and tell-all account of his following Rutan’s “Looking Up… Way Up” credo to his own insights of “Looking Down…Way Down.”

By way of 47 chapters and scads of edifying sidebars, the author steers the reader through a saga of volatile technical challenges encountered in his career, doing so in humorous, often self-effacing writing style.

There’s great historic content in the chapter, “Rotary Unraveled,” describing his 1999 copilot experience in flying Rotary Rocket’s Roton vehicle, built to be a single stage to orbit spaceship.

The three-and-a-half years it took to pull off the milestone-making SpaceShipOne program spared no one, Binnie notes, and by the end, those involved were left exhausted.

Binnie writes in admiring detail about his colleague, Mike Melvill, the person that, among a number of flight test duties, flew SpaceShipOne on its first flight past the edge of space in June 2004, months later to pilot the first competitive flight in the Ansari X Prize competition.

“Burt’s spaceship, like many of his aeronautical designs, was elegant. Simple. Tidy. Reusable. And very, very clever. You could say it was magic,” Binnie points out.

In detailing his December 17, 2003 flight — the craft’s first powered trip skyward that ended in a skid off the runway — he dryly recalls: “There was magic in the air. That is, until I crashed SpaceShipOne,” he explains “And as the grating, grinding noise gradually subsided, the only sound left in the cockpit duly recorded — but thankfully muted in the Discovery Channel documentary — was me practicing my French,” Binnie explains.

Once again, the reader will find this book revealing and riveting.

As Binnie makes clear, this volume was created entirely by an author that has had forty years of “wrestling with recalcitrant machinery” doing its best to be lethal, but proving to be useful training.

That said, he adds “if you’ve got no fears, you’ve got no dreams.”

For more information on this book, go to:

One Response to “Book Review: The Magic and Menace of SpaceShipOne”

  • Maryniak, Gregq says:

    Personal Note to Leonard David

    Hi Leonard.

    This is indeed an excellent book and an amazing peek behind the curtain. I spent a fair bit of time at Scaled over those years and still learned a tremendous amount from Brian’s account.

    Hope you guys are well. Maureen and I are celebrating our 43rd anniversary today…and will become grandparents next year.



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