My annual February birthday month fund-raising campaign for Behind the Black is now over. It was the best February campaign ever, and the second best of all of my month-long fund-raising campaigns.


There were too many people who contributed to thank you all personally. If I did so I would not have time for the next day or so to actually do any further posts, and I suspect my supporters would prefer me posting on space and culture over getting individual thank you notes.


Let this public thank suffice. I say this often, but I must tell you all that you cannot imagine how much your support means to me. I’ve spent my life fighting a culture hostile to my perspective, a hostility that has often served to squelch my success. Your donations have now allowed me to bypass that hostility to reach a large audience.


Even though the February campaign is over, if you still wish to donate or subscribe you still can do so. Regular readers can support Behind The Black with a contribution via paypal:

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


If Paypal doesn'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
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Aerojet Rocketdyne trims and reorganizes workforce

Capitalism in space: In an effort to reduce costs and increase efficiency Aerojet Rocketdyne is cutting approximately 300 jobs while closing facilities in California and Virginia.

Rancho Cordova’s nearly 70-year run as a hub of the aerospace industry will soon end. On Monday, Aerojet Rocketdyne Inc. announced that it would relocate or eliminate about 1,100 of its 1,400 local jobs over the next 2 1/2 years and shut down manufacturing operations in the area. The company also said it would close its facility in Gainesville, Va.

Rocket engine manufacturing will be consolidated in a new plant in Huntsville, Ala. In all, 800 jobs will be added in Huntsville by the end of 2018.

The company is faced with stiff competition from Blue Origin and others, and until now has resisted changing its methods of operation, which in the past relied on generous government contracts that were uninterested in lowering costs. That world appears to be ending, and so it appears that the Aeroject Rocketdyne is finally changing as well. This is a good thing, as it increases the chances that the company will survive.

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.


  • LocalFluff

    I wonder if this stream of lay offs from the old space industry helps new start ups recruit experienced staff? It could strike back at them. They are being laid off, not because they are somehow incompetent, but because they have been incompetitively organized. There are entrepreneurs around who can change that.

  • Tom Billings

    “They are being laid off, not because they are somehow incompetent, but because they have been incompetitively organized. There are entrepreneurs around who can change that.”

    There are entrepreneurs, yes. There is capital to invest in their companies. The people laid off in California, however, will have to be willing to move elsewhere to get their new jobs. Few entrepreneurs will be starting their companies in California. The state legislature just keeps passing laws that make new startups more and more expensive, and less and less fun for those who must keep them running.

    As an example of the results of these policies, the rental price of an average moving van to move from San Francisco to Dallas, Texas, is $2,975. The rental price for the same moving van to move from Dallas to San Francisco is $1,975. Those who can generate new wealth are already moving elsewhere.

  • Edward

    LocalFluff asked: “I wonder if this stream of lay offs from the old space industry helps new start ups recruit experienced staff?”

    The correct answer is ‘yes,’ but you may notice that the new startups are recruiting far more youngsters than old fogies. The older aerospace people tend to be set in their ways, doing things as they did in the old cost-plus companies. The new startups are looking more for people who they can mold into their new ways of doing things than for people who are harder to change.

    For instance, too many of the old rocket engineers would have told SpaceX that they couldn’t make a first stage reusable, but the younger engineers hadn’t yet been taught that it was impossible. In their ‘ignorance,’ they managed to do what had been thought impossible.

    Sometimes, experience is not as good of a thing as it should be.

  • Garry

    Edward, when I train/supervise my employees I drum into their head one of my favorite sayings:

    “Good judgment comes from experience, experience comes from bad judgment”

    Then I give them enough rope to make mistakes that we can recovery from.

    I find that
    (a) the learning curve becomes much steeper when they feel a certain freedom to make (recoverable) mistakes (they learn what not to do by having to undo it)
    (b) they occasionally come up with a good innovation because they “didn’t know better.”

    I suspect that the range of application of this approach is more limited in the rocket business than it is in mine.

  • Edward

    Garry wrote: “I suspect that the range of application of this approach is more limited in the rocket business than it is in mine.”

    I’m not sure about limitations, but the cost of the mistakes can be pretty large. There were (and are) many spectacular failures that taught us how to do it right. Even in the 1990s, of the 11 new designs for orbital launch vehicles, 10 had failures of their first launches. What a decade. A friend of mine says that the failure of Ariane 501 cost around $7 billion and calls it the most expensive software error in history. (The cost was more than just the rocket and payload, it includes the lost business during the investigation and fix, the investigation, the fix, and cetera.)

    SpaceX has shown that it is willing to risk the large cost of mistakes in order to improve their rockets. They had a few failures with their Falcon 1; they lost their Falcon 9R during a test; they learned a nasty lesson launching CRS-7; there were a few spectacular failed attempts to land on their drone ship; and there was the latest spectacular failure on the launch pad with Amos-6.
    “‘When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favor’ — Elon Musk”

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