Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar below. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.

Regular readers can support Behind The Black with a contribution via Patreon or PayPal. To use Patreon, go to my website there and pick one of five monthly subscription amounts, or by making a one-time donation. For PayPal click one of the following buttons:


Or with a subscription with regular donations from your Paypal or credit card account:


If Patreon or Paypal don't work for you, you can support Behind The Black directly by sending your donation by check, payable to Robert Zimmerman, to

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

Orion ready for launchpad!

Be still my heart! NASA has completed the assembly of the Orion capsule stack, prior to installing it on its rocket on the launchpad.

I remain decidedly unexcited by this upcoming test flight, which will send Orion up to 3,600 miles and then bring it back to Earth at about 20,000 miles per hour to test the spacecraft’s heat shield.

For example, the exaggerations and overstatements in this one short article tell you a great deal about how oversold the SLS/Orion program is.

First, the article makes this ridiculous claim:

Orion is NASA’s next generation human rated vehicle that will eventually carry America’s astronauts beyond Earth on voyages venturing farther into deep space than ever before – beyond the Moon to Asteroids, Mars, and other destinations in our Solar System.

Orion is totally incapable of doing this. It is far too small to send crews on multi-month-long missions. There isn’t space inside for crews to do the necessary exercises to keep their bodies healthy in weightlessness. Nor is there space for each crew person to have a room for privacy. In fact, the capsule by itself does not have the capacity to carry the required supplies for such deep missions.

In truth, Orion is really nothing more than the descent capsule that someone might someday consider attaching to a much larger interplanetary vessel. And it was built for a lot more money than necessary.

The article also brags about the wonders of the SLS launch abort system, even though on this particular test flight the attached system is merely a dummy that will only test the system’s ability to separate from the capsule. It will not be able to bring the spacecraft safely back to Earth should something go wrong.

Finally, this test flight will not even simulate what returning from the Moon is actually like. On such a flight, speeds generally exceed 25,000 miles per hour.

While this test flight will without doubt provide engineers good data for future work, it’s primary purpose is to sell SLS/Orion to Congress. Got to keep that pork flowing, y’know!

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.

One comment

  • orion314

    let’s throw the dog a bone, while i agree with your points, at least NASA is launching something instead of just sitting around on their thumbs , drawing a paycheck… hope the launch is good, like they used to do it in the old days…

Readers: the rules for commenting!


No registration is required. I welcome all opinions, even those that strongly criticize my commentary.


However, name-calling and obscenities will not be tolerated. First time offenders who are new to the site will be warned. Second time offenders or first time offenders who have been here awhile will be suspended for a week. After that, I will ban you. Period.


Note also that first time commenters as well as any comment with more than one link will be placed in moderation for my approval. Be patient, I will get to it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *