The assembly of ribosomes requires a significant fraction of the energy expenditure for rapidly growing bacteria. The ribosome is composed of three large RNA molecules and over 50 small proteins that must be rapidly and efficiently assembled into the molecular machine responsible for protein synthesis. For over 30 years, the 30S ribosome has been a key model system for understanding the process of ribosome biogenesis through in vitro assembly experiments. We have recently developed an isotope pulse-chase experiment using quantitative mass spectrometry that permits assembly kinetics to be measured in real time. Kinetic studies have revealed an assembly energy landscape that ensures efficient assembly by a flexible and robust pathway.