Conscious Choice cover

From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.


“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.


Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and 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.

Booster landing failure on Feb 15 Falcon 9 launch began with engine issue during lift-off

SpaceX revealed today that the failure on February 15th of the 1st stage of the Falcon 9 rocket to land successfully first appeared during liftoff.

During a NASA press conference March 1 about the upcoming Crew-2 commercial crew flight, Benji Reed, senior director for human spaceflight programs at SpaceX, said that while the booster used on that Feb. 15 launch was making its sixth flight, some components on it were “life leaders” that had flown more often than any other in the Falcon 9 fleet. That included “boots,” or covers around parts of the Merlin engines in the first stage. “This was the highest count number of flights that this particular boot design had seen,” he said.

However, one of those boots had a “little bit of a hole” that allowed hot gas to get into parts of the engine during flight, he said. “A little bit of hot gas got to where it’s not supposed to be, and it caused that engine to shut down,” he said. Reed didn’t mention at what point in the launch the engine shut down, but he suggested it took place during ascent.

…The shutdown of the engine, though, kept the first stage from landing. “When that booster came to return home, because of the problem with that particular engine, we didn’t have enough thrust to get back to where we needed to be, and didn’t land where we wanted to be,” he said.

These facts help explain why SpaceX paused all its subsequent flights. An issue during liftoff is more serious than one that occurs during the return to Earth, as it suggests a problem that could impact future launches and the ability of the rocket to deliver its payload, its primary task.


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  • Jeff Wright

    Now this is why I like the fly-back concept. Once done with the ascent, you glide back and you are done with the rockets. Yes, you have to re-engineer the booster-but you eliminate the boost back wear-which means the Merlins can have even longer life. Now it was a pain having to tear into the aft boat-tail of the shuttle orbiter. Kraft didn’t want to do that on every launch-but that is pretty much what happened. Now were I to design a booster-here is how I might go about it. Small solids that I can put on a fork lift. Jet pods I can put on with a fork lift. The engine cluster slides out on a bigger forklift. Let the the pointy heads with the white coats handle the engine cluster once it is indoors, as I slide a new cassette in place.
    You use a crane or something just once to stand it up. Every other aspect is designed around a fork-lift. The solids give the stack a run and go so ramjets take over-any to reduce the number of Merlins or whatever.
    The idea of rocket design around common ground equipment-esp’ the fork-lift-needs looking at. Fly-backs lend themselves to this approach. Less need for barges and cranes.

  • MDN

    What is most laudable is that despite this being a serious issue with potentially negative ramifications here we have a reasonably open disclosure about the incident from SpaceX within just a few weeks. No, they did not provide all of the intimate details, but enough I think to be commended.

    My bet is that SpaceX will learn and adapt from this experience vs constrain the platform to strict use count limits as NASA or other players would likely do. Rather, they will likely develop alternative descent control logic that can deal with the loss of an engine such as this, just as they are doing with Starship.

    Thus SpaceX will continue to race ahead leaving all others in their nozzle exhaust.

  • Trent Castanaveras

    Jeff Wright:

    Aside from a lack of solid propellant use, you just accurately described flight and maintenance ops of the current Starship prototypes.

    Two days to swap and check out an engine, and firing it on the third day. Not bad.

    All aerospace efforts should aspire to a similar regimen.

  • Mike Borgelt

    Interesting to land a fly back booster on a barge when you need to. Add mass of wings and landing gear, heat shields and structural reinforcement, perhaps a lot more than the fuel for boost back and pre entry burn and a whole lot less complex hyper/super/sub sonic aerodynamics . IMO if fly back made sense SpaceX would have done it.

  • John

    This is a reminder that rocketry and especially landing is unforgiving and never routine. The safety culture and flexibility to identify, respond, and correct problems will probably get the company through this quickly. The bureaucracy didn’t do so well with cold o-rings and thermal protection.

    I always thought gliding back to a landing on a runway is simpler and more elegant. (Go dream chaser & X-37!). Obviously not as applicable to boosters or thin Martian atmospheres, but there’s no need to keep cryogenic fuel ready and depend on relighting engines and a flip maneuver.

  • Jeff Wright

    That’s my point-and with the fly-back on the ground horizontally, you can do walk arounds. You can get at everything.
    Now, one reason I support SLS is to keep the technology alive so we can get an Energiya-Buran type Shuttle II. There would not be just one orbiter. One would be a Faget type craft-others would be lifting bodies, waveriders, lenticular designs, etc.
    Columbia II would have OK-92 type jet pods where the OMS pods go-with those engines where the SSMEs were now that those engines are part of the SLS based Energia II. Yes that would be expensive-but it would be paid for by slashing defence budgets-because we are not fighting the battle of Midway anymore.

    Now the reason for my plan is that-for all its risks, side payload mount-side booster designs make for shorter LV stacks without shrouds and fairings to hide issues-and this design allows outsized piggyback assets that can be released from aircraft for low speed tests and side launched by this giant Navajo for large scale hypersonics tests.

    The new SLS core has thrusters to allow recovery for wet stage uses. Only at the end does it become top payload mount like Energia Vulcan for BEO missions once the best test article becomes the next RLV. That was what I still call for.

    Starship Super Heavy is tall, and while Starship might be capable of carrying hypersonic test craft-they can’t be too wide. Top mount winged designs can impart pitch loads and bending moments.

    Super Heavy should have come first-and something as aggressive as Starship would come last-after years of side mount test data from other projects.

  • Edward

    Jeff Wright,
    I think that you will appreciate the Skylon design, out of England:

    Skylon seems to have pretty much everything you like, except for a launch escape tower. Hydrogen fuel, runway landing as well as takeoff, and wings. In addition, it breathes air at the lower altitudes before going to an onboard oxygen source.

  • Mike Borgelt

    Somehow I don’t think swapping about 1.5 minutes in dense atmosphere on an essentially ballistic trajectory for the complexities of aero/thermodynamics, air breathing engines converting to rockets and on landing doing glide approaches with no go round capability is a good trade for cheap liquid oxygen, a simple rocket only mode and the bellyflop and flip followed by powered landing.
    Let’s see what tomorrow brings with SN10.
    Falcon 9 has 9 engines. It only needs 3 for boostback and re-entry burns and one for landing. I suspect SpaceX have not bothered with the programming for more redundancy as the probability of a good landing is high enough already. This may change with experience.
    Remember – the best part is no part (wings that is). The other parts are already there.

  • Jeff Wright

    The DLR spaceliner is an all rocket VTOHL TSTO-ish design…I just want jets to avoid the dead stick landing. Now DLR had a fly-back that looked a lot like Starship in the nose-at the wiki under “Fly Back Booster…DLR”

  • Edward

    Mike Borgelt,
    Rocket engines are already complex, but I believe that the idea behind Skylon is to reduce the overall system complexity by creating a reusable single stage to orbit (SSTO) method. The weight is also reduced by using a design similar to Skylon. Others have a complex system of rockets that are staged along the way and launch from complicated launch complexes. This simplicity is why SSTO was attempted in the 1990s.

    There is almost certainly a size restriction to winged spacecraft, similar to the restriction for aircraft. The Spruce Goose is about as large as any other aircraft ever flown, suggesting that difficulties arise when aircraft become too large. A good question is whether the size restriction on launchers is similar or less than the restriction on a winged launcher.

    Dream Chaser, Falcon 9, New Shepard, the Space Shuttle, Starship, and Super Heavy all lack go-around capability, so that is not the serious concern that some may think. Keep in mind that the weight of the equipment and fuel needed for a go-around reduces the capacity of the spacecraft’s launch. Launch capacity is a tradeoff that SpaceX chose to make in order to have reusable boosters. A question is whether dead stick landings are worth the additional payload to orbit and the resulting lower cost of access to space. So far, that has been the choice.

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