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My February birthday fund-raising campaign for Behind the Black it now over. I sincerely and with deep gratitude thank all those who donated. Without your support I could not keep doing this, not so much because of the need for income to pay the bills, but because it tells me that there are people out there who want me to do this work. For those who did not contribute during the campaign, please consider adding your vote of support to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, in any one of the following ways:


1. Zelle: This is the only internet method that charges no fees. All you have to do is use the Zelle link at your internet bank and give my name and email address (zimmerman at nasw dot org). What you donate is what I get.


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ESA: ExoMars launch in ’22 “very unlikely” due to Russian invasion of the Ukraine

In a statement yesterday condemning Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine and responding to the Russians’ decision to suspend cooperation with Arianespace in French Guiana, the European Space Agency (ESA) also admitted, almost as an aside, that the ExoMars launch in ’22 to Mars is now “very unlikely.”

That mission is a partnership with Russia, where the Russians provide the rocket and the lander that will put Europe’s Franklin rover on the surface.

For the scientists running ExoMars, this delay only adds to their frustration, as the mission has already been delayed several times, most recently from a ’20 launch because the lander parachutes — being built by ESA — were not ready.

Conscious Choice cover

Now available in hardback and paperback as well as ebook!


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.


All editions are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all book vendors, with the ebook priced at $5.99 before discount. The ebook can also be purchased direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit, in which case you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


Autographed printed copies are also available at discount directly from me (hardback $24.95; paperback $14.95; Shipping cost for either: $5.00). Just email me at zimmerman @ nasw dot org.


  • Lee Cockrell

    Any technical reason they couldn’t use a Falcon 9? Payload seems to be about 2300 lbs,

  • Questioner


    “..e Russians provide the rocket and the lander that will put Europe’s Franklin rover on the surface…

  • Questioner

    Question: Is the Russian part of the ISS fully functional as a stand-alone space station and therefore could it decouple from the rest?

  • Lee Cockrell

    I said a *technical* reason.

  • Questioner


    Without Russia, no lander!

  • Lee Cockrell

    Fine, nevermind, I’ll never ask again.

  • Lee Cockrell: Don’t be offended by the rudeness of Questioner. Your question was a valid one. Franklin could be launched by another rocket like a Falcon 9, but getting it switched in time for a launch this year might be difficult.

    And yes, the bigger problem would be the lander. However, replacing the Russian lander with something someone else built is likely not impossible, and might carry benefits. It would however also mean the rover can’t launch his year.

  • And Lee, if it was Questioner’s rudeness that caused you to cancel your subscription to BtB, I’m sorry. I can’t and won’t censor the commenters here for such a minor issue, but you should be aware that it was not me who was rude.

  • sippin_bourbon

    Another technical question.
    Now that we no longer care about pissing them off, what is preventing us from simply reverse engineering the RD-180s, applying some American know how to improve, and then just start making these things here?

    I mean, they are good engines, and BE-4 is looking less likely anytime soon. With the RD 180s this is a known working system. Start with that, improve, modernize, and mass produce.

  • David K

    To change the topic a bit, I for one am tired of all these one off rovers with solar panels strapped to their backs.

    Is there any reason ether starship or SLS can’t create a base with several rovers and recon helicopters and teslabots going in all directions? It seems that with a much heavier lift vehicle and several groups working together such a thing should be possible this decade if not this year.

  • Jeff Wright

    That day may come.

  • Edward

    David K asked: “Is there any reason ether starship or SLS can’t create a base with several rovers and recon helicopters and teslabots going in all directions?

    SLS cannot create such a base because it only flies every other year (once a year after 2030 or so) to support our sustainable presence on the Moon, and there aren’t any left over to support missions to Mars. Once every two years or even every year may not seem like it could be sustainable, but if NASA says it is so then their definition of “sustainable” has a lower utilization than I would consider sustained presence.

    Starship cannot create such a base because … um …

    Come to think of it, a single Starship could take a hundred tons of rovers, helicopters, and teslabots at each transit opportunity, every two years, and many Starships could go to Mars at each transit opportunity, so seeing up a base with exploration equipment could be quick and relatively easy. Each of those Starships could even return to Earth with tons of samples. The design of the Starship system allows for many launches each year, and maybe even more than one launch per day per launchpad. Starship can launch often enough to support a sustainable presence on the Moon, and it can launch enough missions to Mars at each transit opportunity to ensure that a base on Mars is also sustainable.

    Huh. Who would have thunk it. Starship could turn out to be superior to SLS — but only in cost, ability, and availability. SLS excels in providing $800 million (or $4.1 billion, depending) worth of jobs in various congressional districts for each annual SLS launch, plus the value of the payload.

    For Starship to provide a similar number of jobs, it would have to launch dozens of times to make up for each SLS launch. Several Starship launches would only be able to launch several hundred tons of payload, supplies, and equipment worth a mere few billion dollars, made in states throughout America. In the 2030s, creating a base on Mars and returning tons of samples should be easy for Starship. If we compare the cost of returning the few pounds of Perseverance’s samples at perhaps a cost of a billion dollars for the return mission, then Starship samples would only be worth many, many tens of billions of dollars. Is this worth the effort and cost?

    A single Curiosity or Perseverance/Ingenuity mission costs a billion-ish dollars. A single Starship could take scores of Curiosity class rovers. Mass produced these may cost only a couple of billion dollars per score of rover/helicopter pairs.

    Humans on Mars could work a hundred times faster, finding even better samples than the rovers do, spreading out farther and faster. Just the geological science alone could be worth the price of putting people on Mars. The voyage to and from Mars and the time on the planet all present opportunities for far more science, too.

    I can see why so many people are so excited about SLS. Why make progress in space by leaps and bounds with Starship when it is so much more cautious to make small incremental progress with each annual SLS launch. If we use Starship to explore space, we only get what We the People want, but if government uses SLS to explore space then we can eventually get everything that government wants. How can we argue with that?

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