One of the books I finished on my trip was Encounter with Tiber by Buzz Aldrin and John Barnes. I enjoyed the book, though it certainly has its faults. Some of its characters seem more like placeholders than real people. The aliens of "Tiber" don't seem all that alien. The writing style is a bit rambling. But it does manage to connect many aspects of the real historical space program to a future that includes private space companies, cooperation among multiple nations, and human exploration of the moon, Mars, and far beyond. I hope it doesn't take a message from Alpha Centauri to push us beyond low Earth orbit, but it is encouraging that some private space development similar to what the authors imagined in 1996 is happening in real life.
The main case in point is SpaceX, which is making real progress on its Falcon 9 launch vehicle and its Dragon spacecraft for transport of cargo and later crews to the ISS and other LEO destinations. SpaceX president Elon Musk released another "monster update" yesterday. Great stuff including several videos. The picture shows a test stand firing of the Falcon 9 first stage with a single Merlin 1C engine, the regeneratively cooled version whose development was recently completed. The Falcon 9 will use 9 of these engines in the first stage, generating over a million pounds of thrust.