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. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.

Atlas 5 successfully launches OSIRIS-Rex

A ULA Atlas 5 rocket today successfully launched the U.S.’s asteroid sample return mission, OSIRIS-Rex.


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  • mkent

    A little premature, as the spacecraft is at this time only is a temporary parking orbit. The second stage must still push it into Earth escape.

    Sorry for the nitpicking, but I get nervous during launches when people prematurely celebrate. Rockets tempt fate enough. No need to taunt it. :-)

  • Edward

    I think that you are right to wait, even if spacecraft separation is the only remaining action, because not all separations have been successful.

    Fortunately, a successful separation happened a few minutes after you posted your comment of caution, so now a successful mission is all up to the spacecraft.

  • mkent


    Congratulations to ULA and NASA. Looking forward to a way-cool mission.

    PS: Four separate challenges for the spam filter? Isn’t that getting to be a little much?

  • Localfluff

    I’ve never seen an Atlas V launch with only one solid rocket booster before.
    Now, go get that meteoroid stuff down to Earth from the heavens! If for no other reason, to prove that we can do it if we want to, since we are the masters of the universe (we really are!)

  • mkent: You are right of course. I am working on other things and hurried my posts today. I should have been more careful.

  • C cecil

    I would like to know what happens to the second stage. It is at or above escape velocity at the time of payload release, forever lost in space?

  • Localfluff

    C cecil
    Upper stages (like the Centaur in this and in many other cases) go as far as the probes they launch! The separation of the payload just gently pushes the payload away from it by a few meters per second, as they together travel at tens of thousands of meters per second in the same direction.

    They do not enter geosynchronous or Martian orbit, though, because that requires a thrust from the probes’/satellites’ onboard engine at arrival. The upper stage just continues into some heliocentric orbit. There are thousands (at least a thousand) of upper stages up there.

  • fred


    I very very much doubt there are 1000s of heliocentric booster stages. The US might average 2 or 3 missions beyond geo per year. Russia, I’m not so sure, let’s say 3 per year. Everyone else you can count on one hand. That’s maximum 300 in the entire history of spaceflight. This is probably way too high of an estimate.

  • Localfluff

    It could be that upper stages sent into geotransfer trajectory, orbit the Earth rather than the Sun, I don’t really know about that. Anyway, upper stages basically go where their payload goes, they just don’t brake to do an orbital insertion and enter a particular useful orbit. Launches to LEO (such as spy satellites and ISS supplies) do come back down sooner or later.

  • pzatchok

    Why are the second stages sacrificed like that?

    They could be made to carry transceivers and other equipment and used as orbiters. With solar panels they could be the primary source of power for the payload/lander plus the source of braking trust for making orbit or in flight corrections.

    If your worried about the main tanks exploding from left over fuel just purge them to space and leave them open.

    I think that the days of saving launch weight/mass are over and we need to start worrying about using the mass we do send into orbit for as long as possible and in more than one way. Start thinking that nothing sent onto orbit is wasted.

    The second stage is not just an engine, its a great place to attach other stuff.
    Small telescopes and cameras, solar panels, cube sats for going around the moon or very small planetary sensors/probes to be dropped into a planets atmosphere as they pass or orbit one.

  • Edward

    pzatchok asked: “Why are the second stages sacrificed like that? They could be made to carry transceivers and other equipment and used as orbiters. With solar panels they could be the primary source of power for the payload/lander plus the source of braking trust for making orbit or in flight corrections.”

    You have an excellent point. Weight that is lifted into space should not be squandered and lost, because it is so difficult to get material from the Earth to space (difficult as in propellant-intensive).

    However, because it is so difficult, it makes the use of the upper stages as useful science, commercial, civil, or military platforms less desirable. Ironic, isn’t it? Adding extra mass to the upper stages reduces the mass the the primary payload can have, and it is the primary payload that has received all the resources and attention to the mission’s details.

    Keeping the upper stage with a satellite or probe only adds mass that has to be pushed into the proper orbit, and this has its difficulties (difficult as in propellant-intensive). The main engine and fuel tank really do not have enough usefulness to be worth the effort. The reason to jettison the upper stage is similar to the reason for jettisoning the first stage — it is not worth carrying the weight, even though it seems as though it could be useful. It is far more worth putting mass into the payload.

    I believe that it will become desirable, in the not-so-distant future, either that upper stages return to Earth for reuse — as SpaceX expressed interest in doing — or that upper stages be salvaged from LEO or GEO-Transfer orbits for use in orbital manufacturing facilities.

    Right now, we do not have the capability to salvage material in space, but perhaps an enterprising new company will build such a facility and put up some tugs to reclaim these stages. (I am disappointed that Lockheed Martin’s tug idea was not chosen for the latest ISS resupply contract, but I am hopeful that the idea will soon be implemented for other purposes. I am happy, though, that Sierra Nevada’s reusable spacecraft was chosen.)

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