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

Dream Chaser to fly 14-day UN mission in 2021

The competition heats up: Sierra Nevada today signed a deal with the United Nations to fly a 14-day mission in 2021 using Dream Chaser.

The first-ever United Nations space mission is intended to launch in 2021 and will allow United Nations Member States to participate in a 14-day flight to low-Earth orbit (LEO) on SNC’s Dream Chaser spacecraft. “One of UNOOSA’s core responsibilities is to promote international cooperation in the peaceful use of outer space,” said Simonetta Di Pippo, director of UNOOSA. “I am proud to say that one of the ways UNOOSA will achieve this, in cooperation with our partner SNC, is by dedicating an entire microgravity mission to United Nations Member States, many of which do not have the infrastructure or financial backing to have a standalone space program.”

According to Ms. Di Pippo, funding of the mission will come from multiple sources. “We will continue to work closely with SNC to define the parameters of this mission which, in turn, will provide United Nations Member States with the ability to access space in a cost-effective and collaborative manner within a few short years. The possibilities are endless.” Countries selected to provide mission payloads will be asked to pay a pro-rated portion of the mission cost, based on the resources required to host the payload and their ability to pay. In addition, major sponsors are being sought to finance a large portion of the mission costs.

While the press today is in a feeding frenzy writing stories about Elon Musk’s speech, they are ignoring this story. Yet, this deal between the UN and Sierra Nevada is actually far more important. Musk’s proposals, while exciting and important in how they move the conversation of space exploration forward, are mostly Powerpoint fantasies. He does not have customers for his interplanetary transportation system. He does not have a rocket. All he has is the Raptor engine, which is only beginning its design testing. It will be years before any of his proposals here become real.

This UN/Sierra Nevada deal however is reality. A private American company is building a spaceship that it is now selling successfully to third world nations. Actual money will change hands. Profit will be earned. And Sierra Nevada will be in a position to use those earnings to upgrade and advance its designs. This will be the future, far sooner than Elon Musk’s International Transportation System.

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.


  • wayne

    I didn’t realize the UN had a budget for Space.
    Is there any information as to how much of this will be paid for, by US taxpayer’s?

    This phrase caught my eye– “Countries selected to provide mission payloads will be asked to pay a pro-rated portion of the mission cost, based on the resources required to host the payload and their ability to pay.”

    How Progressively-Marxist of them! (Now I’m convinced the USA will pay for everything.)

  • Mitch S.

    Hmm.. the UN.
    I share Wayne’s skepticism.
    A spacecraft that hasn’t flown in a contract with the UN.
    And Dream Chaser has to be launched by someone else’s rocket.

    I hope it works out but it sounds more like a scheme to move money around.

  • wayne

    Mitch S.
    –cool. I thought it was just me…

    I’m “all-in” with rockets-in-space (and Cats, Rodents have followed us everywhere…) and largely rely on the expertise of others on the rocket-science of it all.
    One thing however, I’m totally convinced— if the UN has their fingers into anything, it’s the United States that will be footing the tab to a large degree, no matter how they hide the money-trail.
    (I’ll even tolerate a tolerable bit of Big Crony Space, but let’s agree to cut the UN out of their percentage, ‘cuz we know, it’s a thick-percentage, eh what?)

  • fredk


    Dream Chaser + the UN ??? Did this story come out of the Onion?

  • Edward

    This contract demonstrates the eagerness that non-spacefaring nations have for doing things in space. This is a good sign for future demand of Bigelow space habitats and the space taxis and cargo spacecraft that get people and supplies to them. Not only will the spacefaring nations want to use these space habitats, but non-spacefaring nations obviously have a desire to do so, too, even though they have to buy rides up to them (less expensive than developing their own rockets and spacecraft).

    These additional nations will want to do their own experiments and add their own knowledge to the world, competing with the spacefaring nations.

    The competition heat up indeed!

  • I find this announcement utterly underwhelming. The UN ? Seriously? Funding by tax money stolen from the unwilling.
    Meanwhile Elon Musk has outlined a transport system to go anywhere this side of the asteroid belt. (I think the transit times to outer planets will be too long.)
    Want to land on the Moon in style? Go to Mars, float large balloons in the upper atmosphere of Venus, build solar power sats, resort hotels in LEO. BFR/BFS will do them all. Only 2 and a half vehicles to develop. As he said this is only a small start.
    We’re talking ships with a mass of a few hundred tonnes. Boats really by sea ship standards.

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 *