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.

Big budget boost for ESA

The European Space Agency (ESA) received its largest budget increase ever, 20%, from its 22 member nations at a high level meeting yesterday.

The meeting also included commitments to remain a partner in ISS to 2030 and increase participation in Lunar Gateway. From the press release:

With worldwide partners, Europe will take its place at the heart of space exploration going farther than we have ever gone before – we continue our commitment to the International Space Station until 2030 as well as contributing vital transportation and habitation modules for the Gateway, the first space station to orbit the Moon. ESA’s astronauts recruited in 2009 will continue to receive flight assignments until all of them have been to space for a second time, and we will also begin the process of recruiting a new class to continue European exploration in low Earth orbit and beyond. European astronauts will fly to the Moon for the first time. Member States have confirmed European support for a ground-breaking Mars Sample Return mission, in cooperation with NASA.

ESA will help develop the commercial benefits of space for innovators and governments across the Member States, boosting competitiveness in the NewSpace environment. We will develop the first fully flexible satellite systems to be integrated with 5G networks, as well as next-generation optical technology for a fibre-like ‘network in the sky’, marking a transformation in the satellite communication industry. Satellite communications will join forces with navigation to begin satnav for the Moon, while closer to home commercial companies can access funding for new applications of navigation technologies through the NAVISP programme. ESA Ministers have secured a smooth transition to the next generation of launchers: Ariane 6 and Vega-C, and have given the green light to Space Rider, ESA’s new reusable spaceship.

Isn’t competition wonderful? ESA’s budget has been stagnant for years. Then SpaceX comes along and threatens its commercial market share while generating a new political will in the U.S. to renew its own space effort, and suddenly the European nations that make up ESA decide they need to do the same.

Much of the proposed program for ESA is very likely to happen, especially the commitments to a variety of astronomical and planetary missions. The agency’s commercial effort is also likely to happen, but whether it can happen fast enough to be competitive is questionable. As a government agency ESA’s track record in its effort to compete in the launch market has not been impressive. It took them far too long to accept the idea of reuseable rockets or the need to cut their costs drastically.

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


  • Edward

    This is the first time in a while that I have heard of Europe’s proposed Moon village, as mentioned in Robert’s second link. I was beginning to think that they had abandoned the idea.

    I am not surprised that ESA has been approved for a larger budget. Space News had some articles, earlier in November, describing ESA’s leadership’s plans for the future. They were not just asking for additional cash, but they presented plans to ensure that Europe’s space agency and commercial space companies stay relevant. Europe is taking space seriously.

    Robert’s second link also mentions one of the proposed four pillars of programs: 1. Science and exploration, 2. Applications (e.g. Earth science), 3. Enabling and support (e.g. launch vehicles), and 4. Space safety (e.g. planetary defense and orbital debris).

    Not only did ESA ask for very little for the fourth pillar, 1/4 of what they asked for each of the other three (7% rather than 30%), but it seems from Robert’s second link that ESA’s 22 member states have granted even less to that forth pillar. Apparently, if they are to be less serious about some aspect of space then safety is the one to be less serious about.

    Robert’s third link mentions commercial benefits. ESA has plans to help keep Europe’s companies relevant.

    Ariane wants to improve its new rocket even after its first flight. They, too, are trying to remain relevant.

    So, yes. SpaceX and other U.S. companies have put pressure on Europe’s space industry. It seems that Europe hopes to put some pressure back on the U.S. and its companies. Make Europe-space Great Again!

    Are “MEGA” hats available yet?

  • Lee S

    I was actually expecting a slamming from you Bob…. Very little that happens this side of the pond meets you, or the readers approval ;-)
    But you nailed this one… ESA has been very late to the game, and unwise in not learning from our partners over there.
    Regardless.. it is hart warming that the interest in all things space has increased to the point where a budget increase on this scale hardly makes the news over here .. it’s just accepted as needed.
    Enjoy your turkey, my colonial friends… I’ll be eating mine in the 25th in true English style…
    Happy Thanksgiving!

  • wayne

    (totally tangential)
    You might like this…..

    Ambassador John Adams meets King George III of Britain

  • Lee S

    @wayne…. Nice one! You could cut off slices of the tension! ( Which I’m pretty sure you could have during the real meeting!)

  • wayne

    …here ya’ go– compare & contrast:

    Neil Young & Crazy Horse:
    God Save The Queen / America [My Country Tis of Thee] medley

  • wayne

    Washington receives the British surrender at Yorktown
    from “Turn: Washington’s Spies” 2017

  • Lee S

    Ok….. I get the point…. We let you keep your little colony over the Atlantic…. I’ve even been told it’s not too bad a place to live in if your not a socialist…. ;-)
    Seriously… The world would be a much different, and I don’t mind saying, a darker place if the USA hadn’t spit from the UK.. It is not a chunk of history I am well read upon, ( ancient Greek and Roman is my thing )
    Even given the dodgy leaders you guys and myself have had over the last 20 or 30 years we all seem to be doing ok….. There are no signs of western civilization falling into ruins just yet….

  • wayne

    slight correction– you didn’t let us keep our little colony, we kicked you out!

    Grapes of Wrath
    last scene

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 *