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.
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Last night Falcon 9’s computers shut the launch down at T minus zero seconds after sensing a high chamber pressure in one first stage engine.
Two thoughts, one good, one not so good.
First the good. This is not an unusual event for SpaceX. They have had a number of previous aborts at launch, with both Falcon 1 and Falcon 9, initiated by computer. What has been very encouraging about all these events is they have always been able to make the rocket safe and recover to launch another time. And that recovery has always been breathtakingly fast, sometimes taking just a few minutes.
This pattern of last second scrubs however suggests something more worrisome. I wonder if we might be seeing a design issue with Falcon 9’s first stage, which uses nine Merlin engines. When they first announced this configuration — chosen to save money as they would not have to design and build a new more powerful engine — my first thought was that it was going to be very complicated pumping fuel and oxidizer to all those engines simultaneously and with precision. One of the reasons the Soviet Union’s N1 rocket failed was it’s first stage had 30 engines, requiring an incredibly complex fuel system. I worry that Falcon 9’s first stage carries with it this same problem. It seems to me, for example, that most of the past launch aborts occurred because of fuel pressure anomalies detected by the control computer.
Having said this, I must add that I am speculating, and really have no idea what the issue is. According to this report, the problem might have less to do with pressure issues and more to do with a fundamental issue with the engine itself. That in itself will be unfortunate, because if SpaceX has to swap out an engine it is going to be very difficult to get this rocket off the ground before May 29. After that date the next launch window will not be until after mid June.
Every July, to celebrate the anniversary of the start of Behind the Black in 2010, I hold a month-long fund-raising campaign to make it possible for me to continue my work here for another year.
This year's fund-raising drive however is more significant in that it is also the 10th anniversary of this website's founding. It is hard to believe, but I have been doing this for a full decade, during which I have written more than 22,000 posts, of which more than 1,000 were essays and almost 2,600 were evening pauses.
This year's fund drive is also more important because of the growing intolerance of free speech and dissent in American culture. Increasingly people who don't like what they read are blatantly acting to blackball sites like mine. I have tried to insulate myself from this tyrannical effort by not depending on Google advertising or cross-posts Facebook or Twitter. Though this prevents them from having a hold on me, it also acts to limit my exposure.
Therefore, I hope you will 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.
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