Behind the Black supporters can now subscribe or donate using Patreon

While I had been planning to add other options for my readers to support my work in addition to PayPal, today’s blacklist story, “Business that makes American flags blackballed by Paypal, Facebook, and Shopify”, finally forced me to take action.

You can now support Behind the Black by using Patreon. If you go to my website there you will have six options:

Ground support: $3 per month
Orbital support: $5 per month
Interplanetary support: $10 per month
Interstellar support: $20 per month
Intergalactic support: $50 per month

You can also make a one time custom donation of an amount of your choice.

You can still subscribe or donate using the PayPal buttons, but now you have another option. My current subscribers need do nothing, as this addition changes nothing in their PayPal account.

What this does is provide me some future security should PayPal decide to freeze my account because it wants to blackball me. As they say, the best thing a seller can have is two buyers. I now have provided my readers two internet options for supporting my work. Better for me, and better for you!

Today’s blacklisted American: Business that makes American flags blackballed by Paypal, Facebook, and Shopify

Banned by Paypal, Facebook, and Shopify.
The American flag: Banned by Paypal, Facebook, and Shopify.

Persecution is now cool! A Tennessee businessman who specializes in making carved wooden American flags to order, with almost any message requested, has been blacklisted by Paypal, Facebook, and Shopify, preventing him access to more than $35,000 of his own cash and causing a 90% reduction in business.

It began when, the day after the January 6th protests in DC, all three big tech companies took action to destroy Your American Flag Store,, a small business owned personally by carpenter James Staake and his family.

This past January, PayPal decided to demonetize James and his business by freezing revenue due him. In total, PayPal is holding more than $35,000 of James’ money. Now, James finds himself in an impossible situation – unable to fulfill orders because PayPal is freezing, rather than transferring, funds from James’ customers to James.
» Read more

Northrop Grumman launches three military satellites using Minotaur rocket

Early this morning Northrop Grumman successfully used a former Minuteman rocket repurposed as a commercial rocket dubbed Minotaur to launch three military reconnaissance satellites for the National Reconnaissance Office.

The rocket’s solid-fueled stages were in themselves amazingly old.

The 69-foot-tall (21-meter) rocket is based on leftover solid-fueled motors from the U.S. Air Force’s Minuteman missile program. Designers added two Orion solid rocket motors on top of the lower two stages of a Minuteman missile to turn the bomb carriers into satellite launchers.

The Minotaur 1 rocket’s M55A1 first stage motor was cast with solid propellant in 1966 by Thiokol, now part of Northrop Grumman. The SR19 second stage motor, produced by Aerojet, was filled with its solid propellant in 1983, according to a Northrop Grumman spokesperson.

The age of the first stage means it is likely the oldest rocket motor ever used on a space launch.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

18 SpaceX
16 China
8 Russia
3 Northrop Grumman

The U.S. now leads China 26 to 16 in the national rankings.

Boxwork in the basement of Mars

Polygon ridges in Hellas Basin
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo to the right, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, shows what resembles closely what in Earth caves are called boxwork, polygonal ridges sticking out from the bedrock and usually indicating cracks filled with harder material that resist erosion.

Taken by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) on March 23, 2021, what makes this boxwork especially interesting is its size and location. On Earth cave boxwork generally ranges from a few inches to a few feet across. Not only do these Martian ridges range from 100 feet to a half mile in length, they are located at the lowest point in Hellas Basin, the basement of Mars. In fact, this spot is as close as you can get to Mars’ Death Valley, as shown by the overview map below.
» Read more

Today’s blacklisted American: Black Congressman blacklisted by Congressional Black Caucus

Banned for not being black or lefitst enough
Congressman Byron Donalds, banned by the
Democratic Party’s Congressional Black Caucus
for not being the “right kind” of black.

Blacklists are back and the Democrats’ have got ’em! Congressman Byron Donalds (R-Florida) has discovered that simply being black is insufficient to qualify for the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). Apparently he must also be a Democrat and flaming leftist who supports Marxist causes and the racist agenda of Critical Race Theory.

From the first link:

“Since starting in Congress, our office and the Congressman have engaged with several CBC members expressing his interest in joining, but all we’ve gotten is the cold shoulder,” Donalds’ Communications Director, Harrison Fields, told the Daily Caller. The CBC is denying Donalds entrance, individuals familiar with the caucus’s plans reportedly told Buzzfeed News.

From the second link, this statement from the CBC gives their vague explanation why Donalds has been blackballed:
» Read more

Russian astronaut fired for opposing filming of movie on ISS

Krikalev on the shuttle to ISS flight in 1998
Sergei Krikalev on the first ISS assembly flight
by the space shuttle Endeavour in 1998.

According to one new story today, Russian astronaut, Sergei Krikalev, 62, was fired from his position in senior management within Roscosmos for opposing its decision to film for profit the first feature film on ISS.

Krikalev did not say why he was against the film but his stance was backed by former colleagues who said that taking a passenger would delay a flight for a cosmonaut. Roscosmos denied that Krikalev had been fired.

Krikalev is one of Russia’s most celebrated astronauts. He was the first person to fly in space who was born after Sputnik, was the first Russian to fly on the space shuttle, and was the first Russian (along with an American) to enter ISS’s first module soon after launch. Overall he has spent more than 800 days in space.

He also became the last Soviet citizen, stranded on Mir when the Soviet Union fell in 1991. When he launched, he was a citizen of the U.S.S.R. When he finally returned, that country didn’t exist, and he was now a citizen of Russia.

I interviewed him extensively for my book, Leaving Earth, because he was fluent in English due to his flights on the shuttle. What I learned was that Krikalev was then and probably still is an ardent communist. On that Mir flight he refused to be filmed in a commercial for Coca-Cola, arranged by Roscosmos to make some money. There was no way he would allow himself to be recorded in such a crass for-profit manner. Thus, I am not surprised he now opposes using Russian space facilities for a commercial movie, for profit.

I also found him to be a very thoughtful and analytical man, which also probably explains his opposition to this quickly arranged commercial flight. The film company is partly owned by Dmitry Rogozin, head of Roscosmos, so there probably is some payoffs and corruption involved. It is also probably interfering with the Russian side of operations, as the story says Krikalev claims. These factors would cause Krikalev to speak his mind and argue against the flight, which likely angered Rogozin, who is apparently pocketing some cash from the film.

I suspect Krikalev is not fired, but has merely been sent to the doghouse for a short while. Roscosmos (and Rogozin) can’t afford the bad publicity of letting him go. It also needs his expertise in their operations.

Northrop Grumman’s Pegasus rocket launches military satellite

Early this morning Northrop Grumman’s Pegasus rocket successfully launched a military satellite under a program aimed at demonstrating a quick launch capability.

This was the first Pegasus launch since 2019, and only the fifth in the past twelve years. According to the article, Northrop Grumman significantly lowered its price for this launch, charging the Space Force $28.1 million, about half of what it charged NASA for that 2019 flight. Whether this is an effort to make the rocket more competitive, or is simply Northrop Grumman selling off its inventory, will remain to be seen.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

18 SpaceX
16 China
8 Russia
2 Rocket Lab
2 Northrop Grumman

The U.S. now leads China 25 to 16 in the national rankings.

China releases more images from Zhurong

Zhurong looking north past its lander
Click for full image.

The new colonial movement: Three weeks after its Mars rover Zhurong rolled off its lander to begin its 90 day mission, China yesterday finally released the first high resolution images taken by the rover.

The images included a 360 degree panorama, taken while the rover was still sitting on the lander, an image of both the rover and lander taken by a mini-camera that was dropped from the bottom of the rover, a picture of some interesting nearby boulders to the east, and a picture looking past the lander looking north.

This last picture is above, reduced and annotated by me. The small flat but distinct hill to the north I think is the nearest pitted cone that could be either a mud or lava volcano. That cone is about 3.75 miles away, and though a very enticing target is probably too far away for Zhurong to reach, unless it survives for years past its planned three-month mission, as did the American rovers Spirit and Opportunity.

The closer small ridges and hills just to its right could be the east and west rims of the nearest large crater, about 650 feet wide with a distorted shape, that is visible in the high resolution orbital images taken by both Tianwen-1 and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). This crater is about 1,600 feet away.

Based on these images it appears that once Zhurong rolled off the lander to the east, it immediately turned to the right to move several feet south, where it turned right again to move several feet to the west until it was just to the west of the lander, where it took the picture above. During that last move it dropped the small camera behind it so that it could take the picture showing both the rover and the lander.

These maneuvers and the rover’s position south of the lander and facing west suggest they are going to head to the west, where there are some nearby smaller craters and other interesting features. Whether they eventually go north, with that pitted cone a long term goal should the rover last longer than its planned mission through the end of August, remains entirely unknown.

Blue Origin sells first tourist seat on New Shepard for $28 million

Capitalism in space: In a live auction today, Blue Origin successfully sold the first tourist seat on the first manned commercial suborbital flight of its New Shepard spacecraft for $28 million. With the additional fee of 6%, the total price was about $29.6 million.

I have embedded the replay of the auction below the fold, cued up to the auction start.

The bidding was amazingly fierce and aggressive, starting at $4.8 million. The final price is quite spectacular, actually $9+ million higher than what Dennis Tito paid to fly to ISS for several days back in the 1990s.

One wonders what SpaceX and Axiom have been charging for their orbital flights. I doubt it is this much. As I watched I wondered if the bidders were considering the time they would spend with Jeff Bezos as part of the value. These are wealthy people, and getting a chance to spend a lot of time with one of the richest men in the world might be far more valuable to them than the flight itself.

Regardless, we will know soon who won the auction, and will fly into space for a few minues or so on July 20th.

» Read more

Today’s blacklisted American: Leftist academic suspended by college for expressing her opinions

Today's modern witch hunt
Under modern leftist academic thought, soon everyone
will be witch who must be burnt.

Eating their own: Santa Barbara City College (SBCC) in California has suspended the vice president of its extended learning program, Joyce Coleman, because she made comments about the World War II Japanese internment camps that apparently offended some Asians.

Apparently Coleman, who only started her job at SBCC six months ago, made her comments during a March Equal Opportunity Advisory Committee meeting in connection with the formation of “a new campus affinity group on behalf of Asian-American Pacific Islanders.”

The complaint alleges Coleman, who is Black, reportedly greeted news of the new group’s formation with the words, “About time,” and then described having visited an internment camp for Japanese and Japanese American people during World War II and wondering why the prisoners there “did not just leave,” given how small the fence was. By contrast, Coleman allegedly noted, Black American slaves formed the Underground Railroad and actively resisted.

Some campus faculty and staff took offense to what they described as “victim blaming,” charging that she inflicted “great harm” by her words and actions.

My heart be still. Her words offended someone. What a tragedy! She obviously must be fired immediately and forbidden to work anywhere in America ever again. The suspension is certainly insufficient!

The irony here is that Coleman is herself a proud modern leftist who thinks all whites are bigots and must be punished. For example, during a presentation she gave at a college book club, she had the group watch…
» Read more

Zhurong finally located on Mars

Zhurong as seen by MRO
Click for full image.

Though the Chinese had earlier this week released one image taken by their Mars orbiter, Tianwen-1, showing their rover Zhurong on the surface of Mars, they did not provide any specific location information.

This lack has now been filled by a new high resolution image of Zhurong taken by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) on June 6, 2021. This image, cropped to match the Tianwen-1 image and annotated by me to post here, shows the parachute, entry capsule, heat shield, lander, and rover. I have added white dots to distinguish the rover from the lander, which indicate that since the Tianwen-1 orbital image the rover had moved south about 70 feet, suggesting it has been able to travel on the surface.

What this MRO image provides that the Chinese refused to reveal is the latitude and longitude of that landing site, which in turn tells us that the lander put down about 14 miles to the northwest of its targeted landing spot. The mosaic of MRO context camera images below show this landing spot in context with the surrounding terrain.
» Read more

Update on Perseverance’s future travel plans

Perseverance's future travels
Click for full image.

The science team for the rover Perseverance yesterday released a revised map of where they intend over the next few months to send the rover on the floor of Jezero Crater.

The map to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, shows that route.

The first science campaign (depicted with yellow hash marks) begins with the rover performing an arching drive southward from its landing site to Séítah-North (Séítah-N). At that point the rover will travel west a short distance to an overlook where it can view much of the Séítah unit. The “Séítah-N Overlook” could also become an area of scientific interest – with Perseverance performing a “toe dip” into the unit to collect remote-sensing measurements of geologic targets.

Once its time at the Séítah-N Overlook is complete, Perseverance will head east, then south toward a spot where the science team can study the Crater Floor Fractured Rough in greater detail. The first core sample collected by the mission will also take place at this location. After Cratered Floor Fractured Rough, the Perseverance rover team will evaluate whether additional exploration (depicted with light-yellow hash marks) farther south – and then west – is warranted.

Whether Perseverance travels beyond the Cratered Floor Fractured Rough during this first science campaign, the rover will eventually retrace its steps. As Perseverance passes the Octavia B. Butler landing site, the first science campaign will conclude. At that point, several months of travel lay ahead as Perseverance makes its way to “Three Forks,” where the second science campaign will begin.

At that point the rover will begin studying the base of the delta of material that in the far past poured through a gap in the western rim of Jezero Crater.

“The Endless SLS Test Firings Act”

The Senate passes a law! In the NASA authorization that was just approved by the Senate and awaits House action was an amendment — inserted by Senator Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi) — that will essentially require NASA to build an SLS core stage designed for only one purpose, endless testing at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.

The Stennis-specific provision says NASA should “initiate development of a main propulsion test article for the integrated core stage propulsion elements of the Space Launch System, consistent with cost and schedule constraints, particularly for long-lead propulsion hardware needed for flight.”

So what exactly is a “main propulsion test article,” and why does NASA need one? According to a Senate staffer, who spoke to Ars on background, this would essentially be an SLS core stage built not to fly but to undergo numerous tests at Stennis.

My headline above is essentially stolen from the Eric Berger article at the link. Because this ground test core is not funded, at best it would likely not be ready for testing prior to ’27 or ’28, at the earliest. By then who knows if SLS will even exist any longer, replaced by low-cost and far more useful commercial rockets. Thus, if this Wicker amendment survives, Stennis might be testing a core stage endlessly for a rocket that no longer exists.

And even if SLS is flying, what point is there to test a core stage that never flies? None, except if you wish to create fake jobs in Mississippi for your constituents, as Wicker obviously is trying to do.

Fortunately the bill is merely an authorization, and has not yet passed the House. Much could change before passage, and even after passage money will need to be appropriated to create this fake testing project.

Unfortunately, we are discussing our modern Congress, which has no brains, can’t count, and thinks money grows on trees. I would not bet against this fake testing program becoming law.

Europe to fly mission to Venus to study its volcanoes

The European Space Agency yesterday announced that it will fly an orbiter to Venus in 2031, dubbed EnVision, to study the estimated million volcanoes on the surface of that hellish planet.

EnVision will use an infrared spectrometer to seek out hot spots on the surface that could indicate active volcanoes. It will use radar to map the surface, looking for signs of lava flows. Ultraviolet and high-resolution infrared spectrometers will then look for water vapor and sulfur dioxide emissions, to see whether smoldering volcanoes are driving cloud chemistry today.

This data will help determine exactly geologically active Venus’s volcanoes are. Several studies in the past decade using archival data (see here, here, and here) have suggested as many as 37 of those volcanoes are active, but this data remains uncertain.

Evidence of past underground water in the Martian equatorial regions?

Mosaic of strange feature
Click here, here, here, and here for full images.

Today’s cool image, to the right, takes us to the equatorial regions of Mars, a region that today appears quite arid and dry based on all the orbital and rover/lander data so far gathered. The photo and its complex geology however provides us a hint that once liquid water did exist here. At least, that is the hypothesis that scientists presently favor, though making it fit this complex geology is not simple or straightforward.

The mosaic to the right is made from four context camera images taken by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It shows a very complicated series of depressions — one of which vaguely resembles a crater — that appear to have been washed out by some past erosion process, though that process could not have been that simple because of the fissures and cracks that dominate the floor of the circular feature.

I contacted Chris Okubo of the U.S. Geological Survey, who had requested a high resolution image from MRO of a small part of this mosaic, as indicated by the white box, to ask him what we are looking at. His answer was appropriately noncommittal:
» Read more

Today’s blacklisted American: College endorses segregation against whites, turning former coffee shop into blacks-only haven

The Civil Rights Act of 1964: repealed by Beliot College.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964: unilaterally repealed by Beliot College.

The new bigotry on American campuses: Beliot College in Wisconsin has decided to turn a former campus coffee shop into blacks-only haven, thus re-introducing Jim Crow segregation by treating blacks as a privileged race and all other ethnic groups and races as inferior and thus deserving of discrimination and second-class facilities.

In March, the private institution announced the Java Joint would be closed in order to become “a haven for Beloit College’s Black students.”

The gathering space was praised by Jada Daniel, the current Black Student Union president. “We hope to create a safe space for Black and Brown students, where we have a comfortable place to study,” said Daniel on the school’s website. “Daniel said BSU plans to host Soul Food Sundays, poetry readings, and other events during the year, following COVID safety guidelines,” the website says.

Meanwhile, when questions were raised about this clearly discriminatory policy, the school refused to comment, even as its own website said this:
» Read more

Sierra Space makes deal with UK spaceport for Dream Chaser landings

Capitalism in space: Sierra Space has signed an agreement with a spaceport in Cornwall, England, allowing it to land its Dream Chaser mini-shuttles there.

Sierra Space signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Spaceport Cornwall expressing support for future landings of Dream Chaser at the spaceport, also known as Cornwall Newquay Airport in southwestern England.

The MOU came after Sierra Space performed a study, supported by the U.K. Space Agency, evaluating the feasibility of using the spaceport for Dream Chaser landings. The lifting body vehicle is designed to glide to a landing on runways, and the initial study concluded the spaceport is “a suitable and viable return location for the orbital return” for Dream Chaser, Sierra Space said in a statement.

The more places Sierra can land Dream Chaser the more commercially viable it will be. For Cornwall, this strengthens its position as a spaceport, having already signed an agreement with Virgin Orbit to allow it to launch from there.

Russia announces new tourist flight options to ISS

Capitalism in space: Russia has announced a range of new tourist flight options to ISS in an effort to compete against the new commercial tourist flights being offered by American companies.

Glavkosmos is offering space tourists the option of performing spacewalks from the International Space Station (ISS) and stays of up to 30 days aboard the orbital laboratory. They can even purchase the Soyuz space capsule that took them to and from the station.

The company, which is part of Roscosmos, recently upgraded its website to provide details of what paying customers can do when they book a trip to the station. The information is available in Russian and English.

You can see the English website here. It does not indicate what the prices are for these services, though it will have to be competitive with what SpaceX is charging in order to compete.

Side note: This story is on Doug Messier’s site Parabolic Arc, which is presently running a fund-raising campaign. Please consider donating. While Doug and I might disagree on many things, his work covering commercial space remains among the best on line.

SpaceX’s focus shifts from Starship hops to the first near-orbital flight

Capitalism in space: Work at SpaceX’s Boca Chica spaceport in Texas has now definitely shifted away from doing Starship short hops, focusing instead on the first near-orbital flight using both Starship and Superheavy.

Not only is almost all recent work at Boca Chica centered on building the orbital launchpad with its tower for Superheavy, the company has apparently decided to end development of Starship prototypes 15-19, designed for hops only.

The fate of Starship SN15, following its milestone success with a smooth test flight and landing last month, is still unknown. It is likely awaiting preparations to go on display at Starbase. It is already sitting on display stands.

SN16 continues to reside in the High Bay, all but ready for rollout to the suborbital pad. However, that appears increasingly unlikely, as SpaceX focuses on the upcoming orbital attempt from the launch site next door to where SN15 completed its momentous test.

SN17’s fate is known, with sections of what was to become that Starship now observed as being scrapped at the Production Site.

Meanwhile, SN20’s aft dome [intended for orbit] has also been spotted by Mary (@bocachicagal), sporting three mounts for RVacs, indicating SN20 may be the first Starship to fly with both sea level and vacuum optimized engines.

All signs continue to suggest that orbital test flight will occur before the end of the summer.

China rolls rocket to launchpad for first manned mission to station

The new colonial movement: China yesterday moved to the launchpad the Long March 2F rocket it will use to launch the first three astronauts to occupy its new space station.

The first element of the complex, the Tianhe core module, launched April 28 aboard a heavy-lift Long March 5B rocket, China’s most powerful launch vehicle. An unpiloted cargo ship, named Tianzhou 2, launched May 29 and docked with the Tianhe core module eight hours later, delivering fuel, food and spacesuits for the Shenzhou 12 astronauts.

The Shenzhou 12 mission will last about three months, the longest stay in space to date by Chinese astronauts. Shenzhou 12 will be China’s seventh crewed spaceflight since 2003.

Chinese officials have not announced the launch date for the Shenzhou 12 mission, but rockets for China’s last three crewed spaceflights rolled to the pad at Jiuquan about a week before liftoff. That suggests the launch could occur around June 16 or June 17.

As this launch will be from a spaceport in the interior of China, it will dump its first stage boosters on land.

During that three month mission the three astronauts will likely do several spacewalks to deploy solar panels and other equipment on the exterior of the Tianhe module, preparing it for later modules as well as the next manned mission, scheduled for October and planned to last six months.

Ingenuity completes 7th flight on Mars

Locations of Perseverance and Ingenuity on Mars
Click for interactive map.

Ingenuity yesterday successfully completed its 7th flight on Mars, heading south and landing exactly as planned.

Ingenuity lifted off around 12:34 local mean solar time on Tuesday, which corresponds to 11:54 a.m. EDT (1554 GMT). As planned, the chopper then traveled 348 feet (106 meters) south from its previous location on the floor of Mars’ Jezero Crater, staying aloft for nearly 63 seconds, JPL officials wrote in another tweet. The solar-powered rotorcraft set down at a new airfield, the fourth one it has reached since landing on the Red Planet with NASA’s Perseverance rover on Feb. 18.

Both the rover Perseverance and Ingenuity are traveling south on the floor of Jezero Crater, with the helicopter leapfrogging ahead every few weeks. On the map the red dot indicates Perseverance location, with the green dots Ingenuity’s last three landing sites. They have not yet added to the map exactly where Ingenuity landed yesterday (#7), so I have estimated it based on the information above.

The red outline indicates the region they are planning to explore over the next few months in order to gather a very thorough understanding of the geology of the floor of Jezero Crater. They will eventually head to the northwest towards the cliffs in the upper left, which is the foot of the large delta that flowed in the past into the crater through a gap in its western rim. The route they will take to get there however remains undetermined.

Eroding Martian lava?

Eroding Martian lava?
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo to the right, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, was taken on April 19, 2021 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). Requested by Colin Dundas of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Astrogeology Science Center in Arizona, the image was entitled “Enigmatic Terrain in Elysium Planitia.” The image is labeled so because, as Dundas explained,

Flood lava is a key part of the feature, best seen at the north and south ends of the image. What’s unusual is the knobby terrain at the center. … I haven’t yet been able to do a more thorough study of these features, so plenty of puzzles remain!

The higher material in the upper right is likely flood lava. A 2016 paper [pdf] led by Dundas on similar features in Elysium Planitia that were not as knobby found their origin somewhat baffling. The evidence suggested that lava, mud, wind, and ice could all be involved in their formation, but the evidence was also not sufficient to eliminate any possibility.

In the case of today’s image, the explanation might also be any of these possibilities. For example, we might be looking at the erosion of the flood lava, exposing harder knobs of different material that had been there before and had been covered by the lava. Or maybe the knobs are simply the last bits of that layer of flood lava that has not yet eroded away.

As always, the overview map provides some context.
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