The painful transition to private space

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.

It appears that U.S. aerospace layoffs more than tripled in the first half of 2011.

The downsizing, prompted by cutbacks in defense and government contracts, jumped from 6,121 in the first six months of 2010 to 20,851 this year, based on planned layoffs announced by major employers.

Though I have always favored shutting down the government space agency and replacing it with privately-built rockets and spaceships, the manner in which this is being done now is disgraceful. George Bush declared the retirement of the shuttle seven years ago. Since then Congress, Bush, and Obama have all done an abominable job preparing the nation for that retirement.

Had Bush and Congress focused on building up private space in 2004, we would now have a robust private space launch industry ready to replace the shuttle, as well as hire those laid off shuttle workers. Instead, they focused on having NASA build the pork-laden Constellation system. Then, as that program was actually nearing some completion, Obama shut it down cold turkey.

The result of these political follies is that the United States no longer has the ability to get our astronauts to our own space station, while tens of thousand of skilled engineers are without work. If anyone has any doubt about the foolishness of putting our faith in politicians, this whole disaster should end that doubt forever.

The good news in all this is that these engineers are not going to starve to death. They are skilled and passionate about what they do. I have faith they will find other work. In fact, I strongly believe that many of them will create new work, infusing our society with new industries and new innovation.

It is just a shame that the transition had to be as painful as it is.


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.

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  • i also believe those laid off from the shuttle and other government programs will find work , I hope some of these workers will rededicate themselves to humanity’s future , organize themselves , work together , and build for new space .. if anyone’s putting something together and there’s anything I can do to help let me know I work hard for peanuts!

  • They had to wait for everyone else to catch up with SpaceX. Why? I have no idea. For some reason they decided that Boeing and Sierra Nevada need protection from a tiny startup company. Blue Origin is certainly a nice addition though.

  • ZZMike

    Do you think we’ll regain the scientific and engineering lead we had during the 60s? Almost all of that talent – including astronauts – has retired.

    Do we have a generation (or two) of dedicated, educated engineers and scientists?

    The private space programs seem to suggest that maybe we have – what’s your opinion?

  • zzmike : those are the big questions . i say we do even though things might seem crazy now . america may lead the way yet again but maybe we will become more of a global community than nation . the idea is to balance gov and priv efforts . lower the regulations let the priv companies take risks trying to get to space and work in space . spend gov money for risky research projects . gov spend money on most reliable risk proven priv space companies to do the work to get the exploration and research done

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