An expected engine burn on board the Soyuz capsule taking three astronauts to ISS did not take place as scheduled, forcing at minimum a two day delay in the rendezvous and docking.

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.

An expected engine burn on board the Soyuz capsule taking three astronauts to ISS did not take place as scheduled, forcing at minimum a two day delay in the rendezvous and docking.

[NASA spokesman Rob] Navias said the engine burn was aborted due to a problem with the Soyuz’s attitude control system, but further details were not immediately available. “Right now we don’t understand exactly what happened,” a mission manager at Russian Mission Control told the Soyuz crew late Thursday. Ground controllers planned to download data from the Soyuz and determine whether the glitch was due to a hardware or software problem. [emphasis mine]

Though the astronauts are not in any immediate danger, this is very worrisome. Indications from various other news stories suggest the problem was software related, which in a sense is a good thing. They would still have the option to manually fire their engines to do a manual rendezvous and docking. However, if it isn’t a software issue, and the vagueness of the reports so far makes me wonder about this, they might instead be stranded. Let us hope not.

Update: This report gives a little more information. It appears the capsule itself was not in the right orientation at burn time, and the computer software, sensing this, canceled the burn. If so, the problem might be software (incorrectly gauging the position of the spacecraft) or mechanical (something failing so that the capsule is not oriented correctly). Engineers need to find out which.


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.


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
Cortaro, AZ 85652


  • wodun

    Scary and two days in one of those must be unpleasant.

  • geoffc

    Soyuz was designed for multi-week long missions. The descent capsule is cramped and tiny. The Orbital module on top has more room, and just having two rooms helps. Someone at the controls, and two others in the Orbital module can make things much more bearable.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.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