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On February 5, 2023 I will celebrate my 70th birthday. Yay! As I do every year during this birthday month, I run a campaign to raise money to support my work here at Behind The Black. I do not run ads. My only support comes from my readers, which leaves me utterly free to speak my mind openly about space, culture, and politics. Please consider supporting me in this work 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 successfully tests controlling a robot on Earth from orbit

The European Space Agency (ESA) has successfully completed a test program, proving that an astronaut in orbit on ISS can control and operate a small robot on Earth.

Astronaut Luca Parmitano aboard the ISS [in 2019] operated the gripper-equipped ESA Interact rover in a mock lunar environment inside a hangar in Valkenburg, the Netherlands to survey rocks and collect samples. The two-hour space-to-ground test was a success, overcoming a two-way signal delay averaging more than 0.8 seconds and a data packet loss rate of 1% plus.

The value of this test is obvious. It shows that astronauts will be able to use small rovers and robots in remote operations, such as sending a probe down to the surface before landing themselves, or once on the planet sending that probe into dangerous terrain as a scout, while the astronaut stays back in safety.

At the same time, the robot used and the tasks it completed were all relatively simple. Moreover, the “mock lunar environment” was hardly realistic. A lot more work is needed before such a robot is functional in a real planetary environment.

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.


  • David Ross

    “a real planetary environment”
    The planets and moons we got within 5.3 AU of our Sun, fit for orbit, share these characteristics: near-airless atmo, Mars or Moon g, covered in fine dust or snow powder, and baked with radiation. We’re ruling out using anything like this robot at, say, Venus.
    Although Antarctica “right here” might be interesting to interact with, from orbit. High orbit for line-of-sight, methinks. Unless we’re okay with the delays from a polar orbit.

  • Jeff Wright

    If only we had an ansible for telepresense-use in waldo-work.

  • Of all odd places to learn about sensory latency, I was gobsmacked by my latency sensitivity in Rock Band. My eye (TV) and ear (stereo) “what’s going on?!?!” latency is about 30msec. If the two desynch by more than that, it’s confusing.

    The game doesn’t let you adjust the physical feedback latency, but it would be interesting to test that, too. One supposes that with training, a person could get used to _some_ latency between action and result, but our proprioception systems are VERY old. It might require a great deal of training or natural talent at it.

    Are the issues with remote drone piloting publicized anywhere or is it all classified? Round trip fiber latency from Chicago to London is non-trivial (~200msec, right now; dealing with the slow speed of light is part of my job). Satellite links are much worse and pale in comparison to Earth/Moon.

    Still, a very cool experiment.

  • Are the issues with remote drone piloting publicized anywhere?

    The overall problem seems well known:

    Some the the posters are fairly clueless (it is the Internet, after all).

  • pawn

    “Some the the posters are fairly clueless (it is the Internet, after all).”

    Not just the internet. I had a NASA engineer tell me that we needed to increase the baud rate (the speed, as he understood it) because the Pad was a long way away.

    Hey, they’re in charge. What can you say?

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