Leaving Earth cover

In 2019 I obtained from my former publisher the last 30 copies of the now out-of-print hardback of Leaving Earth. I sold about half of these, and with only a handful left in stock I have raised the price. To get your own autographed copy of this rare collector's item please send a $75 check (includes $5 shipping) payable to Robert Zimmerman to
 

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

I will likely raise the price again when only ten books are left, so buy them now at this price while you still can!

 
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.

 

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

Starship flies!

Starship about 2 minutes into its flight

Capitalism in space: In a spectacular achievement, SpaceX’s eighth Starship prototype today completed 6:42 minute flight that appeared to go practically perfectly, until landing.

At that point it appeared the spacecraft’s last landing burn was insufficient to slow it down enough for landing, and it crashed. However, it crashed on its landing pad, meaning it had maneuvered its way back through the atmosphere exactly as planned.

Below the fold are screen captures from the flight, in sequence.

The flight left several impressions. First, this design is viable. Though we are still looking at a prototype, it is one that works.

Second, the ship appeared to lumber into space, almost slowly. This was partly an illusion because of its size. Nonetheless, it reminded me of the 747, which always flew magnificently but with what seemed like a measured attitude. Starship appeared similar.

Third, the systems for controlling the ship on its return through the atmosphere appeared to work as intended. Though SpaceX obviously has a lot more work to do to achieve an orbital return, they have made a magnificent start.

And they have gotten this far in only two years, for less than $2 billion. Compare that to NASA and Boeing and their SLS, which is half a decade behind schedule and will likely cost $30 billion once launched.

We should expect the ninth prototype to be on the launchpad within days, and the next test flight in no more than few weeks.

Liftoff
Ten seconds into the flight.

24 seconds into flight
24 seconds into the flight.

1:40 into flight.

1:40 minutes into the flight. Note how all three Raptor engines are firing smoothly.

1:50 into flight

Ten seconds later one engine shuts down.

Two minutes into flight

Two minutes into the flight. The ship begins now to roll over.

3:20 into flight

3:20 minutes: A second engine, on the right, cuts off.

4:17 into the flight.

4:17: The middle engine seemed to cut off and the left engine took over. The ship then began to reorient itself, rolling to the left.

4:46 into flight

The roll to the right continues.

5 minutes into flight

Five minutes: The ship is now in glide mode, which it holds for about a minute and a half.

6:33 into flight

Starship begins landing burn as it begins to upright itself for landing.

Just before touch down

Just before touchdown.

Explosion at impact

The explosion at impact to the landing pad.

The landing pad after the smoke cleared

The landing pad after the smoke cleared.

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.
 

44 comments

  • geoffc

    They barely dented the pad! Most of the fuel/oxidizers were used up by the time they landed hard.

    They reignited the engines. They made the flip turn. Those were the two hardest parts they had yet to test.

    That was the most exciting test flight I have ever seen! (Though I am young).

  • Chris

    My Space Launch app deemed the test a PARTIAL FAILURE!? I’d say it was a PARTIAL SUCCESS! Still, miles to go before they sleep, but what a great start.

  • Joe

    My cup is 3/4 full, not 3/4 empty.

  • Edward

    A typo in the second paragraph, Robert. It crashed on its landing pad.

    An excellent test, demonstrating the fall and control during the fall, with the straightening to vertical. These were the important factors that SpaceX said they were studying during this test, so it was mostly successful. I’m not sure that they got the final vertical, though, but that would be expected when one engine fails to relight. The final operational version probably should take such a contingency into account, with could complicate the landing legs.

  • Edward: Thank you. I wrote its very fast. I will not be surprised if there are other typos that I still don’t see.

  • Scott M.

    That belly-flop maneuver (AKA falling with style) looked unreal. The transition back to vertical flight looked so smooth, too! That’s where I expected the most problems IMHO.

    Overall, if they can work out the engine relight/tank pressure issues I think SN9 is going to stick the landing like a ballerina.

    Congrats to the SpaceX team!

  • Richard M

    Compare that to NASA and Boeing and their SLS, which is half a decade behind schedule and will likely cost $30 billion once launched.

    And which gets destroyed after every launch as a normative part of its design!

  • Scott M.

    A couple of other observations:

    1) The engine that cut out first was the last one running when it impacted the landing pad. I think it was a planned engine shutoff, in spite of its rather violent behavior and the bits of fire in the engine bay.

    2) The engines seem to ‘snap out’ to full vector (fully away from vehicle centerline) when they shut off. That must be a safety feature to prevent the engine bells from hitting each other. It shows how much effort they’ve put into this even before test flights.

  • janyuary

    Chris, it was 100 percent success if one figures that landing smoothly wasn’t (IIRC) one of the goals for this flight. Sure, there was a bit of a pop but overall I’d say it was all success.

    An awesome sight was as it went into glide mode, just eased into a prone position as if it had done it a hundred times, and then gradually back upright again for landing, right on target, from that altitude a miracle of precision, just … awesome to see live …. Great Smokin’ Jehosephat!!!

  • geoffc wrote: “They barely dented the pad!” and “That was the most exciting test flight I have ever seen! (Though I am young).”

    I am not so young, and I agree.

  • Icepilot

    F9 opened the door to space.
    Starship is an 18 wheeler on a brand new freeway, with no other traffic.

  • Tom

    I witnessed a historic, milestone space accomplishment today and it was the best, most exciting TV I’ve watched in a very long time. Congratulations to the SpaceX team!

    Now, we all know that the Chinese were watching as well and that they were taking notes. I do hope Mr. Musk’s computer networks and industrial security procedures are tight and effective because we also know that they would love an opportunity to rummage through his design files and exfiltrate them.

    Regardless, just like the Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning, I’m sure we’ll be seeing a copycat example rising over the East China Sea in short order.

  • Dick Eagleson

    Tom,

    The Chinese have had 10 years to watch Falcon 9s. Still no Chinese Falcon 9 copy. Watching video is a long way from being enough to replicate a real advance. The Chinese are even further from having a Starship knock-off than they are a Falcon 9 knock-off.

  • One small step … towards the cosmic Jamestown.

  • Tom

    Dick,

    I believe Bob poster this a few months back. Maybe not.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=77oMI0aL8Jo

  • Captain Emeritus

    41,000′ in 180 seconds is 227 feet per second.
    227 feet per second is 155 miles per hour.
    That was the slowest ascent by rocket I have ever witnessed.
    I think Elon was showing off just a bit.
    Incredible performance SpaceX, Well done!

  • Ray Van Dune

    Yes, I think we all expected to see SN8 accelerate off the launch platform quickly, and after a minute or so shut down engines and coast to 40,000+ feet. But of course, with no engines thrusting, the vehicle has no control, since the “elonorons” are (almost) purely drag surfaces and cannot develop steering forces except in vertical descent!

    So SN8 had to maintain some thrust, but less and less, to arrive at its peak altitude, where it seemed to almost hover before pitching over into the bellyflop.

    The manner in which each engine moved out of the way as it shut down, to allow the still active ones to have the optimum deflection required, was simply elegant! I was with someone who was sure each shutdown was a failure. I was speechless, but wanted to tell them “No, watch carefully, this is just a completely new way to achieve success!”

  • Noah Peal

    That final turn and burn is the Elon Flip.

  • eddie willers

    The Chinese have had 10 years to watch Falcon 9s. Still no Chinese Falcon 9 copy.

    It takes a Bill Clinton and a Bernie Schwartz to really get that type of technology into China’s hands.

  • eddie willers

    That final turn and burn is the Elon Flip.

    Sorts like a Fosbury Flop?

  • Klystron

    What a fantastic flight test. Full 3 engine burn off the pad, two engine asymmetric thrust operation, single engine to top out the ascent. Glide return and flip maneuvering, and then just not quite enough thrust to arrest the descent. I would wager that they hit over 90% of their test objectives. Fail early, fail often, learn always!

  • benEzra

    According to Elon, the insufficient thrust to arrest the descent at landing was caused by low pressure in the methane header tank. That led to cavitation in the fuel turbo pump and loss of thrust (as well as an oxygen-rich mixture and engine damage, the cause of the green flame). Had that not occurred, they likely would have nailed the landing.

    That’s the kind of failure you *want* to catch early in development, and not a year from now coming back from orbit. I’d rate the flight as an astounding success, even with the “unscheduled disassembly” at the end.

  • pzatchok

    That green engine burn did not look good to me.
    To me thats the color of burning material or metal.
    Or was that the re-igniter?

    I liked the cold gas thrusters firing to flip it on its side. My guess is that they will be used less or at least differently during a regular flight.
    With more flight time they can let the drag fins do more of the maneuvering work.

  • MDN

    It looks to me like they might have suffered a fuel starvation cut out just before crashing. Watch closely and there are two engines at thrust after the “Elon Flip” but the one on the right cuts out just a second or two before touchdown. This is a large and heavy structure so I wouldn’t be surprised if they require two engines to successfully decelerate with so little time vs F9’s constant vertical approach, so I conjecture that last engine cut out was indeed unintentional. And as it directly followed the flip maneuver a fuel feed issue seems a good guess, but that is all it is, just a guess.

    Still 90-95% or more successful for sure though and I too offer hearty congratulations to Elon and the entire Starship team. Well done!

  • This is the beginning. I’m so proud of us evolved monkeys, brings a tear to my eye. There is still hope for the human race yet.

  • Mike Borgelt

    Not an “Elon Flip” a “Crazy Elon”.

  • GWB

    Yeah, that was exciting to watch. *big grin*
    My one disappointment with the video is the tight focus on the ship (and the beautiful clear blue sky) made it seem like it was falling like a rock. If you want to make a rocket from the Heinlein juveniles, it needs to soar. Just sayin’.

    (One of my earliest memories was sitting up one night, watching the launch of the last moon shot with my dad. So yeah, this is exceedingly cool.)

  • Starman Jones

    What happened to the high speed rail and space program in America?
    At least the private sector is there when the most worthless feckless laughingstock corrupt government in human history fails.
    Yes I know Elon gets some money from Uncle Sugar and good on him.

  • Ray Van Dune

    During the “glide” there were two views of the fins on the right of the screen. I assume one must have been a nose fin and one a tail, but I couldn’t figure out which was which! Anybody else know?

  • Dan Hamilton

    FINALY at last, it is being done as God and RAH intended.

  • Dick Eagleson

    Tom,

    Yeah, I saw that video when it was first posted. That toy is a long way from being a Falcon 9.

    A number of U.S. companies were hopping and landing vehicles of that size or larger almost 20 years ago – Blue Origin, Armadillo Aerospace and Masten Space were among them. And then there was the much larger DC-X over 25 years ago. SpaceX’s earliest hop tests came much later, in 2012, but employed a full-scale vehicle and a full-scale engine – the first such testbed to significantly exceed DC-X in size and mass. Blue’s earliest version of New Shepard also flew about that same time – a rough equivalent of DC-X. Several improved copies have flown many times since.

    So my comments stand. The Chinese are somewhere between a decade and two decades behind the U.S. in reusable rocket tech. They’re badly trailing in a stern chase and are still losing ground to SpaceX.

  • Questioner

    Oh man, SN 9 fell over? I hope the damage is limited and no one was hurt!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s4ag8sEjuOQ&feature=emb_logo

  • Questioner: Thank you! I will post.

  • Jhon

    Unbelievable how a lot of the news agencies called this a disaster. Just like most of the people reporting the news today, they don’t have a clue of what really is happening, or they have an agenda. Elon is rich and successful, let’s make him look bad.

  • janyuary

    Jhon: “Unbelievable how a lot of the news agencies called this a disaster.”

    Amen. That’s valid, that news reports are often profoundly off. We know it because we have other, better sources of information. Yet most of us are inclined to accept as “Well, credible because it was in the news …” stories in the same media on topics of which we have little knowledge. Instead, we think we’re better informed when we read about any little or big thing, when we may be getting as profoundly messed-up a story as the example above.

    Conclusion: the only way to read news stories is make a list of unanswered questions and then go answer them on one’s own effort and time (nobody but nobody needs a degree to be a journalist, I am qualified to say it; journalism degrees are one of the biggest scams in higher education; one could learn all the necessary technical basics of journalism in a year if it was a trade school setting).

    The most revealing thing about any news story is what’s left out. Lazy consumers assume it’s all included.
    Smart media consumers understand that the individual reader/listener/consumer is responsible for staying informed. The responsibility of the media varies from medium to medium and is its own deal.

    Consumers are responsible for how they consume media in a free market. When government or any other authority establishes what media’s responsibilities are, then liberty dies. We must maintain news media in a free market if we want to live in liberty. We just also have to be smart media consumers.

  • wayne

    I thought somebody already linked to this, but I can’t readily find the original post:

    SpaceX’s Biggest Starship Flight Is A Spectacular Success Even After Crash
    Scott Manley
    https://youtu.be/egHxiX40eJY
    12:14
    –very complete timeline with great techie factoids, and of particular note– starting around the 7:45 mark, spectacular film shot from the ground looking almost straight up.

  • Edward

    Ray Van Dune asked: “During the “glide” there were two views of the fins on the right of the screen. I assume one must have been a nose fin and one a tail, but I couldn’t figure out which was which! Anybody else know?

    It is difficult to be certain, but the angle on the bottom view suggests to me that it is a nose fin.

    Dick Eagleson noted: “The Chinese are somewhere between a decade and two decades behind the U.S. in reusable rocket tech. They’re badly trailing in a stern chase and are still losing ground to SpaceX.

    They may be trailing far behind, but they are in the running. Russia, Europe, and ULA aren’t, but I would have expected them to be.

    pzatchok asked: “That green engine burn did not look good to me. To me thats the color of burning material or metal. Or was that the re-igniter?

    It could have been the combustion chamber burning. This is one of the several dangers of having too much oxidizer. If you haven’t already, be sure to watch wayne’s link to Scott Manley’s comments on the test. It goes into much of what we saw:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=egHxiX40eJY (12 minutes)

    Interestingly, rocket engines may use copper in the combustion chamber, because it conducts away heat so efficiently, thus can be easier to keep cool than many other materials. Steel has a higher melting point, but it does not conduct away heat as well, so counterintuitively it is sometimes the wrong material to use.

    janyuary wrote: “Conclusion: the only way to read news stories is make a list of unanswered questions and then go answer them on one’s own effort and time (nobody but nobody needs a degree to be a journalist, I am qualified to say it; journalism degrees are one of the biggest scams in higher education; one could learn all the necessary technical basics of journalism in a year if it was a trade school setting).

    In my experience with news reports, having been near newsworthy events a couple of times, the news media often dumbs down what they report, and in the process get facts very wrong. The news wants to show the fireball, but how can they report that this is a success in eight seconds of news report? Instead they report what their audience will obviously conclude: the test was a failure. Explaining a whole new concept in rocketry is difficult, and besides, everyone will forget all about this once Starship is flying, so why go to the extra trouble explaining the complex truth?

    I like this site, because Robert goes to that extra trouble.

    The truth is that the sideways fall was the point of the exercise, but watching was boring, as some have noted on various BtB threads. Fireball: exciting. The rocketry equivalent of bleeding (“If it bleeds, it leads). 100-ton rocket hanging in the sky like a blimp? Not headline news. Like watching paint dry or the lawn grow.

    In my experience, the only way to read most news stories is to realize that something happened, but not what was reported. Even the Most Trusted Man in America, Walter Cronkite, got the Tet Offensive wrong, and his bad report turned a decisive victory into a strategic defeat, resulting in Congress failing to adequately fund the eventual peace. We won that war, but we lost the peace. Thank God we were smarter than that after WWII, the lost peace after The War To End All Wars. Too bad Europe wasn’t smarter, in 1920.

    Journalism school used to teach ethics. These days its ethics are not to report the news fairly but to influence the outcome of politics in the direction of communism and — ironically — loss of a free press. And if the journalist becomes famous by being part of the news, so much the better.

  • janyuary

    Wayne — very cool video! Good link.

  • janyuary

    Edward, you’re right about dumbing down, writing to the lowest common denominator. Today’s “news” is really more akin to a typical reading primer for first-graders, little information but lots of pictures.

    Gosh … I thought that the sideways fall was the most thrilling part of all watching on live cam, my gut was literally gripped with the sensation of willing it along! I was half out of my seat cheering it like a ballgame. The explosion … we knew it was probably coming. I was amazed at how resilient the launch pad is.

    Journalism school teaching ethics … I was taught and still marvel at “ethics” as defined by journalism teachers. However I had one teacher (the only in four years of college who taught me anything useful), a respected veteran of the New York Times, who would give a paper an automatic F if one single fact was wrong, from wrong spelling of a name to a street number. Automatic F on the assignment now matter how well written.
    That was ethics that matter applied.

  • Edward

    janyuary ; “I was amazed at how resilient the launch pad is.

    You meant to say “landing pad.” A common mistake, written in the heat of the comment. The launch pad has a structure that is damaged when a Starship test unit explodes on it, so they now have a spare structure standing by to replace the current one, if needed.

    Ah, yes. New York Times. The once-respected source of all the news that was fit to print. Gray Lady down. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

  • wayne

    janyuary-
    another Scott Manley Gem:

    SpaceX Sentinel 6 Launch Remix – Tracking The Booster
    Scott Manley
    11-28-20
    https://youtu.be/sXup0kgkTCs
    6:59

    “While the official launch coverage was sub par, there’s a marvelous tracking shot following the booster from launch through staging and back to landing so I mixed this with some other visuals for context, telemetry from Flight Club IO and music by Test Shot Starfish…”

  • janyuary

    Edward, I stand corrected, thank you!! “You meant to say “landing pad.” A common mistake, written in the heat of the comment.

    As for the New York Times, the days when it really was a credible source of news (well, as credible as any single news medium can be, which is limited), today’s consumers would take one look and turn away. Too much reading, much too long of an attention span required, too much thinking, too much education needed to comprehend the news.

    Today’s news is presented on child-like terms to adults who fail to recognize that their path of least resistance leads to crooked rivers and crooked men.

    Free people are alone responsible for how they consume media in a free market. Blaming media for this mess is like blaming a gun for a shooting.

  • janyuary

    Wayne: WOW!!!!!! Thanks! Man, that was just too cool for traffic school! The landing …. the whole thing actually … gosh.

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