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My February birthday fund-raising campaign for Behind the Black it now over. I sincerely and with deep gratitude thank all those who donated. Without your support I could not keep doing this, not so much because of the need for income to pay the bills, but because it tells me that there are people out there who want me to do this work. For those who did not contribute during the campaign, please consider adding your vote of support to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, in any one of the following ways:


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Mars rover update: November 3, 2016


Post updated: See last paragraph in Curiosity section.

Curiosity location 1507

For the overall context of Curiosity’s travels, see Pinpointing Curiosity’s location in Gale Crater.

After spending almost a month on the flats south of Murray Buttes, during which the rover drilled another hole, in the past week Curiosity has finally resumed its journey south toward the slopes of Mount Sharp and the sand dune area that it must cross to get there.

Unfortunately, NASA has decided to change how it shows the rover’s progress, and these changes seem to me to be a clever and careful effort to make it more difficult for the public to make educated guesses about where the rover might be heading in the very near future. The image to the right is the cropped inset showing the rover’s recent travels that is part of a new a larger image that puts this inset in the context of the rover’s entire journey. This has replaced the wider orbital mosaic that they used to provide (see for example my September 27, 2016 rover update) that gave a very good view of the entire terrain surrounding the rover from which a reasonable estimate of its future path could be guessed.

Curiosity traverse map, Sol 1507

The new image not only doesn’t show much of the nearby geography, in the overall view the placement of text makes it impossible to get a clear view of the upcoming terrain. To the left is the specific section of this newly redesigned Curiosity location image that shows the rover’s position on the edge of this dune area. Unfortunately, the yellow diamond and the large “1507” text block a clear view of the sandy areas directly in front of the rover.

Nonetheless, from what I can gather the rover has now moved far enough south to reach the edge of the sand dune area that it must cross to reach Mount Sharp. Recent images have shown an increasing amount of dark sand covering the ground’s patchwork of flat rocks. The panorama below, created by me from images taken by the rover’s left navigation camera on Sol 1508 and whose view is indicated in the overhead view above, shows these sandy patches. In fact, as the science team noted in its Sol 1508 update), “Because only a few rocks are exposed in the arm workspace, the tactical team decided against contact science in favor of maximizing the drive distance on Sol 1508.”

Curiosity panorama, Sol 1507

Rather than study the rocks around them, they are going to focus their efforts in the coming days in plotting out the safest route through this sandy area. The direction of the panorama once again suggests to me that they will head to the southwest so that they can cut through the most obvious gap in the dunes, as shown in the overhead view.

Below is the last orbital view using the wider mosaic that showed far better the context of Curiosity’s travels. I have annotated it to show where the rover is now, and have indicated where I think it will be heading next.

Older version of overhead traverse map

Update: I have no idea if my comments above had any influence, or if they were merely planning to switch back, but the Curiosity team that posts updates on the rover’s location today, November 3, 2016, abandoned the terribly uninformative orbital image I complained about above and went back to the earlier wider orbital images that show much more of the geography surrounding the rover. For this I am very grateful.


For the overall context of Opportunity’s travels at Endeavour Crater, see Opportunity’s future travels on Mars.

Since my October 6, 2016 update, Opportunity has remained in the same spot, on top of Spirit Mound, during which they have taken a lot of pictures of this mound and its surface rocks, as well as the surrounding terrain.

They are planning to back off the mound today, and will head south working their way inside the crater’s rim until they get to gully they intend to use to drop into the floor of Endeavour Crater.

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. The ebook can also be purchased direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit, in which case you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


Autographed printed copies are also available at discount directly from me (hardback $24.95; paperback $14.95; Shipping cost for either: $5.00). Just email me at zimmerman @ nasw dot org.

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