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.

August 7, 2020 Zimmerman/Finding Genius podcast

The podcast Finding Genius with Richard Jacobs has now posted an hour-long interview he did of me about a week ago. It is available here.


I must unfortunately ask you for your financial support because I do not depend on ads and rely entirely on the generosity of readers to keep Behind the Black running. You can either make a one time donation for whatever amount you wish, or you sign up for a monthly subscription ranging from $2 to $15 through Paypal or $3 to $50 through Patreon.

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.

Your support is even more essential to me because I not only keep this site free from advertisements, I do not use the corrupt social media companies like Google, Twitter, and Facebook to promote my work. I depend wholly on the direct support of my readers.

You can provide that support to Behind The Black with a contribution via Patreon or PayPal. To use Patreon, go to my website there and pick one of five monthly subscription amounts, or by making a one-time donation. For PayPal click one of the following buttons:


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


If Patreon or Paypal don'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

Or you can donate by using Zelle through your bank. You will need to give my name and email address (found at the bottom of the "About" page). The best part of this electronic option is that no fees will be deducted! What you donate will be what I receive.


  • LocalFluff

    I think that the plans for retrieving samples from Mars need to be addressed more. Because it’s a stupid plan! Perseverance spreading out the sample all over the place is crazy. They should be collected and put on a flat area where a lander has easy access.

    And docking the samples with a “Mars Orbital Earth Return vehicle” is madness. I mean, some guy really sat down and thought that up in crazy mood. Better to dock the spacecraft with a separately launched upper stage in Earth orbit, so that enough mass can be landed on Mars to bring the stuff back in one fell swoop. I get this feeling of NASA willingly complicating things just because they enjoy working with complexity. But this is not a chess game for entertainment, they need to do this rationally.

  • Edward

    I agree that it could be a waste of a rover to run around gathering up samples from areas that another rover has already explored. Wouldn’t it have been better for Perseverance to have its own sample launcher?

    Just as there is not much difference between docking around the Earth or docking around the Moon, docking around Mars should also not be a problem. Automated rendezvous-and-docking is already well understood, so it can be performed in orbit around any body, near or far.

    As you noted, bringing the stuff back in one fell swoop, a direct return, would require quite a bit more mass to be landed on Mars, mass that could be better spent on experiments and instrumentation. Mars orbit rendezvous means that the fuel required to leave Mars orbit does not have to be lifted from the surface, and it also does not have to be delivered to the surface. When NASA increases the weight delivered to the Martian surface, the landing system gets more complicated, to the point that JPL considered that landing Curiosity was seven minutes of terror. It seems to me that rendezvous around Mars is no more complicated than around Earth, but landing the extra mass on Mars would be more complicated.

    To put an image in your head, it was believed that a version of Apollo that was a direct flight to the Moon would require an Atlas-sized lander (almost 100 feet). With the lunar orbit rendezvous plan, the lander and Command-Service module were significantly smaller (around 60 feet, including the manned ascent module). Mars may have an atmosphere for an aerobraking reentry, but then it also has a higher gravity, with double the delta-v, relative to the Moon, required to get into low orbit, so the ratio for the sizes of the lander/return vehicles, combined, would be about the same, around 1/2 of a direct return vehicle.

Readers: the rules for commenting!


No registration is required. I welcome all opinions, even those that strongly criticize my commentary.


However, name-calling and obscenities will not be tolerated. First time offenders who are new to the site will be warned. Second time offenders or first time offenders who have been here awhile will be suspended for a week. After that, I will ban you. Period.


Note also that first time commenters as well as any comment with more than one link will be placed in moderation for my approval. Be patient, I will get to it.

Leave a Reply

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