The third week of my annual February birthday fund-raising drive

The second week in my annual February birthday fund-raising campaign for this website, Behind the Black, is now over. The frist week was good, though hardly record-setting, and as ususually happens, the donations and new subscriptions dropped off during that second week, which means that so far this year’s February campaign is a becoming somewhat average.

No matter. The support from my regular readers continues to be strong, for which I am endlessly grateful. I don’t expect or want them to donate over and over again in the same year. And while my readership continues to grow, that growth has slowed in the past two years. This all suggests that I am beginning to reach certain limits to growth. Unless some major media outlet or famous person decides to plug my work out of the blue, we should expect things to remain stable for awhile.

There are still two weeks left in this campaign however. If you have been a regular reader and a fan of my work and have not yet donated or subscribed, please consider doing so. I take no ads, I keep the website clean from pop-ups and annoying demands (most of the time). Thus, I depend entirely on my readers to support me. Though this means I am sacrificing some income, it also means that I remain entirely independent from outside pressure. By depending solely on donations and subscriptions from my readers, no one can threaten me with censorship. You don’t like what I write, you can simply go elsewhere.

So, please consider donating or subscribing. As outlined on the tip jar elsewhere on this page, there are four ways of doing so, by Zelle, Patreon, Paypal, or by check. Please consider supporting my work.

This post will remain at the top of the page for the next month. Scroll down for the most recent updates.

Odysseus is on its side, some antennas blocked

It appears the reason communications with Intuitive Machines’ Odysseus lunar lander has been so difficult since its landing yesterdary is that something caused it to fall over so that it is now lying on its side, blocking some of its antennas.

Intuitive Machines initially believed its six-footed lander, Odysseus, was upright after Thursday’s touchdown. But CEO Steve Altemus said Friday the craft “caught a foot in the surface,” falling onto its side and, quite possibly, leaning against a rock. He said it was coming in too fast and may have snapped a leg. “So far, we have quite a bit of operational capability even though we’re tipped over,” he told reporters.

But some antennas were pointed toward the surface, limiting flight controllers’ ability to get data down, Altemus said. The antennas were stationed high on the 14-foot (4.3-meter) lander to facilitate communications at the hilly, cratered and shadowed south polar region.

Its exact location also appears to be several miles from its intended landing site next to the crater Malapart A. Scientists who operate Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) hope orbital images this weekend will identify the spacecraft’s precise location.

The company also revealed that the reason its own laser guidance system would not function — requiring a quick software patch allowing the spacecraft to use a different NASA system — was because “a switch was not flipped before flight.”

Because of this switch in navigation equipment it was decided to cancel the release of the student-built camera probe dubbed Eaglecam that was supposed to be released when Odysseus was about 100 feet above the surface and take images of the landing. Instead, it is now hoped it can be released post landing and get far enough away to look back and capture photos of the lander.

All these problems however do not make this mission a failure. Like Japan’s SLIM lander, the primary goal of this mission was to demonstrate the technology for softlanding an unmanned spacecraft on the Moon. Intuitive Machines has succeeded in this goal. Though obviously some changes must be made to improve this engineering, the success with Odysseus strongly suggests the next mission later this year will do far better.

Conscious Choice cover

Now available in hardback and paperback as well as ebook!


From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.


“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.


All editions are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all book vendors, with the ebook priced at $5.99 before discount. All editions can also be purchased direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit, in which case you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.


Autographed printed copies are also available at discount directly from the author (hardback $29.95; paperback $14.95; Shipping cost for either: $6.00). Just send an email to zimmerman @ nasw dot org.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit. If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.

The audiobook is also available at all these vendors, and is also free with a 30-day trial membership to Audible.

"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs."--San Antonio Express-News

Mars’ flaky rocks

Mars' flaky rocks
Click for original image.

Cool image time! The picture to the right, cropped, reduced, and sharpened to post here, was taken on February 21, 2024 by the high resolution camera on the Mars rover Curiosity. It once again shows us a very typical many layered rock that the rover has seen routinely in Gale Crater and in the foothills of Mount Sharp.

The long flake tells us many things. First, Mars’ one-third Earth gravity, thin atmosphere, and lack of life allows such flakes to survive. On Earth not only would wind and rain break such delicate forms, plant life would eat away at it as well.

Second, the many thin layers tell us again that Mars’ geological history comprises many cycles and geological events, each of which placed another layer down. The many layers here could actually be evidence of year-by-year events, much like tree-rings detail the drought conditions yearly on Earth.

It will take study on Mars however to find out. These image only tantalize. They cannot give answers.

How park volunteers in Tucson illustrated the growing resentment to unjustified authority

Forest Service discovers it ain't our lord and master
Forest Service discovers it ain’t
our lord and master

Recently the National Forest Service suspended its agreement with a volunteer organization, the Santa Catalina Volunteer Patrol, which had unpaid volunteers wear a forest service uniform with a volunteer patch, rather than a badge, and patrol within Sabino Canyon and other Forest Service trails near Tucson, answering questions for the public.

The reasons why the volunteer patrol was suspended were not described initially, except for vague statements that the volunteers needed “retraining.”

This drastic action is needed because we have patrollers not following our Forest Service Agreement, and any additional violations will result in our charter being removed. All patrollers will be required to go through retraining.

This past weekend that suspension was lifted, with the announcement giving a better explanation as to the cause of the suspension.
» Read more

Leaving Earth cover

There are now only 3 copies left of the now out-of-print hardback of Leaving Earth. The price for an autographed copy of this rare collector's item is now $150 (plus $5 shipping).


To get your copy while the getting is good, please send a $155 check (which includes $5 shipping) payable to Robert Zimmerman to

Behind The Black, c/o Robert Zimmerman
P.O.Box 1262
Cortaro, AZ 85652


Leaving Earth is also available as an inexpensive ebook!


Leaving Earth: Space Stations, Rival Superpowers, and the Quest for Interplanetary Travel, can be purchased as an ebook everywhere for only $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit.


If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big oppressive tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


Winner of the 2003 Eugene M. Emme Award of the American Astronautical Society.

"Leaving Earth is one of the best and certainly the most comprehensive summary of our drive into space that I have ever read. It will be invaluable to future scholars because it will tell them how the next chapter of human history opened." -- Arthur C. Clarke

Vast to compete with Axiom for NASA’s limited slots for commercial manned missions to ISS

The private space station company Vast, the only one presently building its own space station without a NASA contract, has now announced that it intends to to compete with Axiom for the limited docking slots NASA has made available for commercial manned tourist missions to ISS.

During a panel discussion at the Federal Aviation Administration Commercial Space Transportation Conference Feb. 21, Max Haot, chief executive of Vast, said his company would bid on the fifth and sixth private astronaut missions, or PAMs, that NASA offers to companies seeking to flying commercial missions to the ISS. “From our point of view, it will make us a better space station builder, a better partner of NASA, and it will help us practice a lot of the disciplines we are building” for its future commercial stations, he said of Vast’s plan to bid on the missions.

Up until now, Axiom has had no competition for those limited docking opportunities, has flown two missions, with a third planned for this fall. All it needed to do is negotiate the rental fees with NASA for using ISS. Now NASA will need to open up bidding for those slots. Its job is not to play favorites, but to instead make its taxpayer-funded facilities available to as many private companies as possible. Whether it will do so is at present unclear.

Vast’s own space station, a single module to be launched on SpaceX’s Starship/Superheavy, dubbed Haven-1, is scheduled for launch next year according to Vast officials. If so (assuming SpaceX’s rocket is operational by then), Vast will be the first private space station in orbit, beating Axiom and the two consortiums building Orbital Reef and Starlab. And it will have done it without taxpayer money.

Webb: Infrared data sees neutron star remaining after 1987 supernova, the nearest in more than 4 centuries

Webb's infrared view of Supernova 1987a
Click for original image.

Using the Webb Space Telescope, astronomers have obtained infrared data that confirms the existence of a neutron star at the location of Supernova 1987a, located in the Large Magellanic Cloud, the nearest such supernova in more than four centuries and the only one visible to the naked eye since the invention of the telescope.

Indirect evidence for the presence of a neutron star at the center of the remnant has been found in the past few years, and observations of much older supernova remnants — such as the Crab Nebula — confirm that neutron stars are found in many supernova remnants. However, no direct evidence of a neutron star in the aftermath of SN 1987A (or any other such recent supernova explosion) had been observed, until now.

…Spectral analysis of the [Webb] results showed a strong signal due to ionized argon from the center of the ejected material that surrounds the original site of SN 1987A. Subsequent observations using Webb’s NIRSpec (Near-Infrared Spectrograph) IFU at shorter wavelengths found even more heavily ionized chemical elements, particularly five times ionized argon (meaning argon atoms that have lost five of their 18 electrons). Such ions require highly energetic photons to form, and those photons have to come from somewhere.

That “somewhere” has to be a neutron star, based on present theories. The image above shows three different Webb views of Supernova 1987a, with the one on the lower right suggesting the existence of a point source at the center of the supernova remnant. In the left image the circular ring of bright spots is an older ring of dust and material that has been lit up by the crash of the explosive material (as indicated in blue at the center) flung out from the star when it went supernova and collapsed into a neutron star. That wave of explosive material took several decades to reach the ring and enflame it.

SpaceX and China complete launches

Both SpaceX and China today successfully completed launches.

First, SpaceX launched 23 Starlink satellites, its Falcon 9 rocket lifting off from Vandenberg in California. The first stage flew its 19th mission, landing successfully on a drone ship in the Pacific, and tying the record for the most flights for a Falcon 9 booster.

Then, China launched a classified military satellite using its biggest rocket, the Long March 5, lifting off from its coastal spaceport in Wenchang. It remains unclear if China now has the ability to restart the engines on that rocket’s core stage, which reaches orbit, is large enough to survive re-entry, and has previously crashed uncontrolled, with one return barely missing the New York metropolitan area. If not, then this core stage carries a threat, as will the four or so other launches of the Long March 5 that China plans later this year.

The leaders in the 2024 launch race:

17 SpaceX
9 China
2 Iran
2 India
2 Rocket Lab
2 Japan

American private enterprise presently leads the entire world combined 20 to 17 in successful launches, while SpaceX by itself is tied 17-17 with the rest of the world (excluding other American companies).

Odysseus appears to have landed successfully

The privately built Odysseus lunar lander appears to have landed successfully near the south pole of the Moon, though ground controllers have not yet gotten full confirmation that all systems are functioning.

As stated by the mission director, after noting that they were getting a faint signal from the lander’s high gain antenna:

All stations, this is mission director on IM-1. We are evaluating how we can refine that signal and dial in the pointing for our dishes. What we can confirm without a doubt is that our equipment is on the surface of the Moon and we are transmitting. So congratulations IM team. We’ll see how much more we can get from that.

Shortly thereafter the company and NASA ended the live stream.

At this time they do not yet know exactly where the lander touched down, or whether it did so without damage. The signal from the high gain antenna suggests the communications system is intact as well as the antenna, but the lack of further confirmation suggests damage to other instruments, though it is also possible that the signal is not yet firm enough to obtain data from other instruments.

More updates to follow, without doubt.

Today is George Washington’s birthday; He is the man we should always honor, not “presidents”

Washington at the Constitional Convention
Washington at the Constitional Convention

Monday was not “Presidents Day”, celebrating all our past presidents, both good and bad. In fact, it never was.

Originally we celebrated the birthday of George Washington, the Father of our country, on February 22nd, his birthday. Then in 1968 our lovely Congress decided to devalue Washington’s memory by shifting the holiday to the third Monday of the month. The idea was it would give people a three-day weekend, and encourage commerce. What it really did was eliminate the memory of Washington entirely from the holiday.

And yet we mustn’t. Washington not only won the Revolutionary War against Great Britain, acting as general, but he took the lead in writing and establishing the Constitution when the original Articles of Confederation failed to work. Along the way he repeatedly and in no uncertain terms rejected calls for him to take over as king. He then put a final period on his life’s work by serving as the nation’s first president, and most important, refusing to serve more than two terms. He stepped down, and demanded the nation elect a new leader, forcing through what was then a truly unprecedented thing — the peaceful transition of power from one leader to another.

His final public act of importance was his farewell speech upon leaving the office of the presidency, where he made two points for the future that sadly we appear to have decided to forget.
» Read more

Pushback: Stalinist St. Philip’s College in Texas loses 2nd lawsuit, reinstates teacher fired for daring to teach basic biology

St. Philip's College, home to blacklisting and censorship
St. Philip’s College, the poster child of academic
blacklisting and censorship

Bring a gun to a knife fight: For the second time in less than two months, Stalinist St. Philip’s College in Texas has lost a lawsuit for violating the rights of a teacher.

First, in late December it agreed to pay fired professor Will Moravits a $185K settlement for forceably ejecting him from the campus and firing him, simply because he allowed open debate in his classroom about the queer agenda. Moravits did not want his job back, as he readily admitted he was now very happy teaching at nearby Texas State University where “his peers treat him with respect.”

Now it has been forced to settle a second lawsuit with another professor, Johnson Varkey, who it fired in January 2023 for simply teaching basic biology in his biology class. Varkey had had the nerve during a November 2022 human anatomy and physiology class to state that human sex is determined by the X and Y chromosomes, a basic fact of biology. Four students walked out of the class in outrage, and then filed slanderous and false complaints to the administration, which then fired Varkey without due process.

According to Varkey’s legal firm, the non-profit First Liberty Institute, the college has reinstated Varkey.
» Read more

Frozen lava rapids on Mars

Frozen lava rapids on Mars
Click for original image.

Cool image time! The picture to the right, rotated, cropped, reduced, and sharpened to post here, was taken on October 6, 2023 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), and shows a spot on Mars where lava was squeezed between and around some small peaks as it flowed quickly south, flooding all the low areas in this landscape.

The science team describes the features in the full image as “streamlined”, a description that is literally accurate. As this “stream” of lava rushed past, it “lined” the higher terrain, carving it into tear-dropped shapes.

In the color strip, note the blueish spots at the northern base of the 400-foot-high hill. According to the science team’s explanation [pdf] of the colors in MRO images, “Frost and ice are also relatively blue, but bright, and often concentrated at the poles or on pole-facing slopes.” The picture was taken in summer, so if these bright spots are frost or ice, it suggests they are well shaded from sunlight in those north-facing alcoves. This location is only 9 degrees north of the equator, so finding any near surface ice here is highly unlikely. That frost might exist however is intriguing, to say the least.
» Read more

Ariane-6 arrives in French Guiana

Europe’s new rocket, Ariane-6, has arrived by specially-designed ship at the dock in French Guiana and is ready for off loading in advance of its presently scheduled inaugural launch this summer.

On this trip, Canopée brings the central core for Ariane 6’s first flight. Having collected the upper stage from Bremen, Germany, Canopée moved on to Le Havre, France, to load the main stage of Ariane 6. … Canopée’s structure is tailored to carry large, fragile loads as well as navigate the shallow Kourou river to Pariacabo harbour. From here the various Ariane 6 components are offloaded and transported by road to the new Ariane 6 launch vehicle assembly building just a few kilometres away.

Built for Arianespace, the commercial arm of the European Space Agency (ESA). the rocket’s launch is four years behind schedule. It is also not reuseable, which has limited its marketability and explains why ESA as well as its member nations have shifted to encouraging new private rocket companies with competing and cheaper rockets. It has decided it is a mistake to rely solely on a government-owned rocket company.

Varda’s space capsule lands successfully in Utah

Varda's space capsule, on the ground in Utah

Varda yesterday successfully returned its orbiting space capsule back to Earth after a six month delay caused by government red tape.

Varda Space Industries’ in-space manufacturing capsule, called Winnebago-1, landed in the Utah desert at around 4:40 p.m. EST. Inside the capsule are crystals of the drug ritonavir, which is used to treat HIV/AIDS. It marks a successful conclusion of Varda’s first experimental mission to grow pharmaceuticals on orbit, as well as the first time a commercial company has landed a spacecraft on U.S. soil, ever.

The capsule will now be sent back to Varda’s facilities in Los Angeles for analysis, and the vials of ritonavir will be shipped to a research company called Improved Pharma for post-flight characterization, Varda said in a statement. The company will also be sharing all the data collected through the mission with the Air Force and NASA, per existing agreements with those agencies.

The image to the right, released by Varda, shows the capsule on the ground after landing. With this success the company’s capsule is now available for commercial use, with three more launches already purchased through Rocket Lab. There is a very viable market for example for certain drugs that cannot be manufactured well on Earth, but in weightlessness can be produced very purely.

Live stream of landing of Odysseus on Moon

South Pole of Moon with landing sites

UPDATE: The engineering team has decided to delay the landing attempt by one lunar orbit, pushing it back to 6:24 pm (Eastern). The live stream begins well before then, so that NASA can get in a lot of blather and propaganda, so feel safe waiting to tune in until 6 pm (Eastern).
Capitalism in space: I have embedded below the NASA live stream for the presently scheduled 5:30 pm (Eastern) landing on the Moon of Intuitive Machines Nova-C lunar lander dubbed Odysseus.

The green dot on the map to the right marks the planned landing site, about 190 miles from the Moon’s south pole. This will be the closest attempted landing so far to that pole, and if successful it will land on the rim of a crater, Malapart A, that is believed to have a permanently shadowed interior.

Odysseus however has no instruments capable of seeing into that interior. Its main mission is engineering, to test the landing technology of Intuitive Machines’ spacecraft. As part of this effort, it will release a small camera probe, dubbed EagleCam, when it is about 100 feet above the surface, which will to take images of that landing. [Update: That probe is unprecedented for another reason: It will be first student-built probe to land on another world, as it was designed and built by a team of students at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida.]

If the landing is successful, Odysseus is designed to last until sunset on the Moon, about another two weeks. It carries a variety of NASA and commercial payloads, including a private small optical telescope. More important, it will allow the company to follow through with its manifest of future missions, including a second lunar landing later this year.
» Read more

Complete New Glenn test prototype now vertical on launchpad

New Glenn test vehicle on launchpad

For the first time, after more than a decade of development, a complete two-stage New Glenn test vehicle is now vertical on the launchpad at Cape Canaveral, ready for launchpad tests in preparation for what Blue Origin hopes will be a first launch later this year.

The journey to the pad began in December when New Glenn’s first-stage modules were transported from our factory to the Integration Facility nine miles away. The tests will conclude in the coming weeks following several demonstrations of cryogenic fluid loading, pressure control, and the vehicle’s venting systems. Our launch pad and ground systems are complete and will be activated for the first time during the test campaign.

If successful, New Glenn would be somewhat competitive with Falcon Heavy, and would give the U.S. a third company, after ULA, capable of competing directly with SpaceX. This of course assumes Blue Origin doesn’t buy ULA, which has been rumored.

Why the public continues to lose faith with the medical community

Sudden collapse
One of many sudden public collapses.
Click for full video.

An op-ed today in the New York Post tried to explain why the medical and health community lost the confidence of so much of the public after the COVID epidemic. According to Marc Siegal, a doctor and news pundit (or as described in his bio line at the end of the essay, “a clinical professor of medicine and medical director of Doctor Radio at NYU Langone Health and a Fox News medical analyst”), the distrust was caused by the effort of the Biden administration to force the COVID jab on everyone through mandates while squelching any dissent or discussions of potential risks.

To Siegal, this effort to make believe the jab carried no risks at all was seen from the start as a lie, and has since been proven so. Better to have been honest from the start, Siegal says, so that patients could make up their own minds with all the facts in hand.

The way Siegal couches his language in his op-ed, however, only increases this distrust.
» Read more

Curiosity’s view of Gale Crater from its new heights on Mount Sharp

Low resolution version of panorama
Click for full resolution version of panorama. For the original images, go here, here, and here.

Overview map

Cool image time! The panorama above was created from three pictures taken on Februay 13, 2024 by the left navigation camera on the Mars rover Curiosity (available here, here, and here). It looks to the north, across Gale Crater and its nearest rim, about twenty miles away. The red dotted line indicates the approximate route Curiosity took to get to this point. The yellow lines on the overview map to the right show the approximate area covered by the panorama.

The images were part of the routine mosaics created by both the left and right navigation cameras for helping engineers plot the rover’s future travels. The pictures that look back at the far rim however also provide important atmospheric data. In this case, the haze tells the scientists how much dust is in the atmosphere. It is presently winter in Gale Crater, which also corresponds to the dust storm season. Thus, the view is very hazy.

Curiosity will likely remain at this location for several more weeks, as the science team is about to begin another drilling campaign. Note the large dark area on the cliff face on the right that is also level with the terrace where Curiosity presently sits. The scientists want to get core data of this layer, and they think they are at a good spot to do so.

Tomorrow’s landing of Intuitive Machine’s Odysseus lunar lander

South Pole of Moon with landing sites
Nova-C is Odysseus’s landing spot

NASA has now announced its planned live stream coverage of tomorrow’s landing attempt of Intuitive Machine’s Odysseus lunar lander near the south pole of the Moon.

Intuitive Machines is targeting no earlier than 5:49 p.m. EST Thursday, Feb. 22, to land their Odysseus lunar lander near Malapert A in the South Pole region of the Moon.

Live landing coverage will air on NASA+, NASA Television, the NASA app, and the agency’s website. NASA TV can be streamed on a variety of platforms, including social media. Coverage will include live streaming and blog updates beginning 4:15 p.m., as the landing milestones occur. Upon successful landing, Intuitive Machines and NASA will host a news conference to discuss the mission and science opportunities that lie ahead as the company begins lunar surface operations.

No live stream is of course active yet. When it goes live tomorrow afternoon I will embed the youtube broadcast here on Behind the Black.

If successful, Odysseus will be the first American landing on the Moon since the manned Apollo missions more than a half century ago. It will also mark the first successful lunar landing achieved by a privately-built spacecraft. Companies from Israel, Japan, and the U.S. have already tried and failed.

Space Perspective unveils test balloon capsule for unmanned test flights

Space Perspective's Neptune Capsule

The high altitude balloon company Space Perspective yesterday unveiled the test balloon capsule, dubbed Excelsior, which it plans to use for a program of ten flights beginning this year, prior to beginning manned flights on its Neptune manned capsule, shown in the graphic to the right.

Neptune is designed to take eight passengers to altitudes of twenty miles for several hours, not quite space but high enough to see the curvature of the Earth. The company had said in 2022 it would begin commercial flights by the end of 2024, but it now says it is targeting 2025.

Florida-based Space Perspective is one of two American companies attempting to fly high altitude balloon flights for tourists, with Tucson-based World View the other. There is presently no word when World View will begin its first manned flights.

ISRO: Upper stage engine of largest rocket now approved for Gaganyaan manned mission

India’s space agency ISRO today announced that it has completed engine tests of the upper stage engine of its LVM rocket, a variation of its GSLV rocket and its most powerful, that will be used on its Gaganyaan manned orbital mission presently scheduled for launch in 2025.

In order to qualify the CE20 engine for human rating standards, four engines have undergone 39 hot firing tests under different operating conditions for a cumulative duration of 8810 seconds against the minimum human rating qualification standard requirement of 6350 seconds.

Before the 2025 manned mission, ISRO plans four more launch abort tests (one has already taken place) and three unmanned Gaganyann orbital demo missions. Two of those unmanned demo flights are scheduled for this year.

Firefly: Software caused failure of upper stage in December

According to the rocket startup Firefly, a software issue prevented the engine on the upper stage of its Alpha rocket from firing its final burn, leaving a Lockheed Martin satellite in the wrong orbit.

In a Feb. 20 statement, Firefly said an error with the guidance, navigation and control (GNC) software for the upper stage of the Alpha on the company’s “Fly the Lightning” mission Dec. 22 kept the upper stage from firing as planned to circularize its orbit. That left the upper stage and its payload, a Lockheed Martin technology demonstration satellite, in an orbit with a low perigee.

The investigation, which included the company’s own mishap team as well as an independent review, found that the error in the GNC software algorithm “prevented the system from sending the necessary pulse commands to the Reaction Control System (RCS) thrusters ahead of the stage two engine relight.” Firefly didn’t elaborate on the issue, but the RCS thrusters likely would have been used to ensure the stage was in the proper orientation and to settle its tanks so propellant would flow from them into the engine.

From this description it appears the attitude thrusters (RCS) had not worked correctly, and this made it impossible for the main engine to fire, either because the computer sensed it was in the wrong orientation, or its fuel could not flow properly to the engine.

The company says it has made corrections, and still expects to launch four times this year.

SpaceX launches Indonesian communications satellite

SpaceX today successfully launched an Indonesian communications satellite into orbit, its Falcon 9 rocket lifting off from Cape Canaveral.

Indonesia’s reasons for buying SpaceX’s launch services are explained here. The first stage completed its 17th flight, landing on a drone ship in the Atlantic.

The leaders in the 2024 launch race:

16 SpaceX
8 China
2 Iran
2 Russia
2 Japan
2 India
2 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise now leads the entire world combined in successful launches 19 to 16, with SpaceX now tied 16 to 16 with the entire world combined (excluding American companies).

Martian gullies caused by glacial and water erosion

A gully on the north rim of Niquero Crater
Click for original image.

Cool image time! The picture to the right, rotated, cropped, reduced, and sharpened to post here, was taken on December 23, 2023 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

The image shows us the north interior rim of 7-mile-wide Niquero Crater on Mars. From the high to the low points the elevation difference is about 2,500 feet, with a steep downhill slope averaging about 18 degrees. The terrain appears to show several avalanche collapses that pushed lower material out of the way, though at the bottom where that material has been pushed aside there is no obvious large debris pile.

The science team labels this image simply “volatiles and gullies”, a label that carries a host of significant information. These gullies, which were among the earliest found by Mars Global Surveyor in the late 1990s, were the first evidence that the surface of Mars had a lot of near surface ice. It is for this reason that this relatively small crater on Mars has a name. Most craters this small remain unnamed, but the gullies on Niquero’s north slopes required more study, and thus the crater was given a name.

Subsequent orbital imagery has now shown that craters like Niquero, located in latitudes higher than 30 degrees, quite often are filled with glacial debris. In fact, the material that these avalanches pushed aside at the base of the slope is that glacial material, protected by a thin layer of dust and debris. The avalanche essentially disturbed that protected layer, and thus the debris pile (made up mostly of ice) sublimated away when warmed by sunlight. Thus. no big debris pile.

The gullies tend to be on the pole-facing slopes. Scientists believe they are the remnant evidence of ancient glaciers that grew on these slopes because they were protected from sunlight. In subsequent eons, when the climate on Mars changed, those glaciers collapsed, leaving behind the gullies we see now.
» Read more

It is hardly news that Joe Biden is mentally incapable of being president

Joe Biden at his February 2024 press conference
Joe Biden at his February 2024 press conference

In the past two weeks the press has been buzzing about a report [pdf] by Justice Department special counsel Robert Hur, who decided he could not indict Joe Biden of criminal misuse of classified materials because Biden was “an elder man with poor memory.”

Biden then appeared to confirm Hur’s report with a press conference shortly thereafter, where he made false claims against the report, and acted exactly as a person with serious memory issues. For example, at one point he confused the leader of Egypt with that of Mexico.

What makes this media buzz laughable, especially coming from sources like CNN and the New York Times (the last two links above), is that these facts have been evident since 2020, well before Joe Biden was elected president. On October 26, 2020, just before the 2020 election, I wrote this column: “Joe Biden is just not qualified, for health reasons,” stating the following:
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Astronomers: a 9,000-light-year-long stream of gas and dust ripples like a wave due to the Milky Way’s gravity

According to an analysis of data from the space telescope Gaia, astronomers now believe that a 9,000-light- year-long stream of gas and dust that is only 500 light years away from the Sun at its nearest point ripples up and down like a wave, due to the Milky Way’s gravity.

Dubbed the Radcliffe Wave after the institute in which the astronomers were based who first discovered it, the scientists determined its wavelike behavior by mapping the motions of the star clusters along its length. Apparently, over time they are moving up and down, not unlike fans at a stadium doing the wave.

The data also includes these intriguing results:

“It turns out that no significant dark matter is needed to explain the motion we observe,” Konietzka said. “The gravity of ordinary matter alone is enough to drive the waving of the Wave.”

In addition, the discovery of the oscillation raises new questions about the preponderance of these waves both across the Milky Way and other galaxies. Since the Radcliffe Wave appears to form the backbone of the nearest spiral arm in the Milky Way, the waving of the Wave could imply that spiral arms of galaxies oscillate in general, making galaxies even more dynamic than previously thought. “The question is, what caused the displacement giving rise to the waving we see?,” Goodman said. “And does it happen all over the galaxy? In all galaxies? Does it happen occasionally? Does it happen all the time?”

That no dark matter is involved causes a lot of problems for the hypothesis that such material exists, causing the motions of stars in the outer regions all galaxies to orbit the galaxy faster than they should. Why would dark matter cause that increased rotation, but have no impact on this wave? It is a paradox that is not easily resolved.

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