China to attempt to grow potatoes on Moon

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.

China’s Chang’e-4 lunar rover/lander, set to launch in 2018, will include a small experiment that will attempt to grow potatoes from seeds.

Note that I have just realized that I have been confusing Chang’e-5 with Chang’e-4. Chang’e-5 is a sample return mission that they hope to launch this year. It does not include a rover. Chang’e-4 is a lander/rover mission that is planned for 2018.


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.


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  • Dick Eagleson

    Who knew Mark Watney was really Chinese?

    Though maybe that also explains why Matt Damon was in that Great Wall movie.

  • Dick Eagleson: Can you explain please? Who is Mark Watney?

  • wayne

    “The Martian”

  • Wayne: This shows how I am often completely out of touch with modern culture, especially movie culture. I haven’t yet seen The Martian, so I had no idea what Dick Eagleson was referring to.

    And remember, I used to make feature films. I left that business out of disgust at the material being produced. It thus makes me often uninterested in seeing the most recent releases.

  • Michael

    Robert: read the book. The book is quite excellent. The movie is a hollow shell of the story and a major disappointment in comparison.

  • LocalFluff

    The Martian criticizes NASA HSF management, so you’ll like that part at least :-) It’s actually a Robinson Crusoe on Mars version, some old sci fi movie was even titled that. Without Friday, though. The most realistic space sci fi I’ve seen. Identifying the unrealistic parts is just interesting, not annoying.

    Chang’e 4 will be preceded by a communication satellite in EML-2, so maybe more Chinese surface missions to the far side of the Moon are to be expected. A potential (military) use of the far side of the Moon is that it is completely free from any insight. “Potato” might be a code word… A resource is otherwise the complete absence from artificial radio waves (except for that com sat of course). I hope they bring instruments at least as a preparation for a serious radio telescope. Disturbing the radio environment with com sats in EML-2 is by the way a classic homesteading problem. Luckily, laser communication is underway.

  • Michael: One of the reasons I haven’t been that interested in seeing (or reading) The Martian is that to me it seems to be an outright steal of a very good 1960s movie called Robinson Crusoe on Mars.

  • wayne

    Mr. Z.,
    I hear you!

    I rarely actually pay money, to see anything current, (although I am trying to see Wonder Woman today) but I attempt to keep up with the science fiction.

    You might find this informative–

    Author of ‘The Martian’ Andy Weir, talks with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory employees ahead of the movie release.

  • wayne

    Who remembers this one?

    “Marooned” Trailer
    (released November 1969)

  • wayne

    Totally forgot how exciting “Marooned,” actually was…

    The Rescue launch scene (In the eye of a hurricane.)

  • Garry

    One thing I liked about the movie version of The Martian (I didn’t read the book) was the use of NASA’s proposed spacecraft as part of the plot.

    I don’t mind when they rip off plots of previous books/movies, so long as they put in enough of their own touch to make it a different story, or to develop aspects of the plot / background better.

    I went into the movie expecting it to be given the Hollywood treatment, but they left enough details realistic that I enjoyed it. I also appreciated the upbeat, optimistic atmosphere created by the main characters, although I thought the characters were a little too simplistic.

    I enjoy movies more now that my expectations have gone down a lot; today’s movies are mostly midgets, and I consider The Martian to be one of the taller midgets. At least it wasn’t based on a comic book, as are most of the movies my family drags me to.

    Give me an old classic movie any day, or even a mediocre movie from decades past; I’ll take plot over over-production.

  • Mike Borgelt

    I read The Martian on Kindle not long after it was published. The movie was enjoyable and the take away lesson was – “don’t do anything dumb, be smart, logical, work hard, work through problems and with a little bit of luck (much of which you make yourself) you’ll make it.”
    This is in contrast to all too many modern movies where the lesson is – “you aren’t in control of your fate, forget logic it is all about feelings and no matter what you do things will turn out for better or worse (usually worse)”, which is an utterly immoral point of view.

  • Dick Eagleson


    Neat clip from ‘Marooned.’ Just before the launch one of the network reporters on-scene refers to “Pad 41.” That’s ULA’s Atlas V pad these days.

  • wayne

    Thanks for that factoid.
    (There’s also a printed sign in the background as well, same clip.)

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