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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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ExoMars2020 passes new parachute tests

Revisions to Europe’s ExoMars2020 parachutes have successfully passed tests at JPL in California.

Working with Nasa, ESA made modifications to the way the parachutes are released from the bag, which avoids creating so much friction. Using a special rig at JPL, the parachutes have now been tested up to their expected extraction speed of just over 200km/h with no sign of damage. Further confirmatory tests will now take place.

Time remains very short however. The launch window for ExoMars2020 is this coming summer.

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.


  • Richard M

    Hope they can make it.

    I’d hate to see the Rosalind Franklin reduced to a pile of rubbish on the Martian landscape, given its amazing capabilities.

    Whereas I would love to see both it and Mars 2020 landing around the same time, and both sending back images and data every day.

  • Lee S

    I would like …. No…. Love, to see a successful landing of this massively capable, and to be honest, more adventurous than anything NASA has launched since the Viking missions regarding the search for life on Mars, to achieve a successful landing and mission…. But I am deeply skeptical…
    The ESA couldn’t get the parachutes right after almost 20 years (perhaps 15 years… But this mission has been in “development” for decades…) , We had to come and get some tips off NASA before passing the test… And this is just a couple of months before packing up the thing ready for launch.
    I’ve mentioned this before here, but I remember watching a TV program when Steve Squires went to have a look…. His advice was ” give it 6 wheel turning…. If we hadn’t had that on my 2 rovers, they would both be dead now..”… This was early in the development…. And entirely ignored.
    I wish this mission the very best of luck… I will watch the few minuets of terror live with a bottle of bubbly, as I do for every Mars mission… And pop the cork if it lands safely…. But given the rushing for this launch window, and the success rate for European landing on Mars…. I will also have a bottle of scotch ready for when contact gets lost and doesn’t resume….
    I wish I could be optimistic…. But I just can’t be … Too late in development, too fast in pretended everything is ready…
    I won’t eat my hat, but I will eat some form of horrible Swedish fish if this manages to land successfully!

  • Richard M

    “…more adventurous than anything NASA has launched since the Viking missions”

    I love the Rosalind Franklin and the scientific promise it brings, but…surely this is slightly excessive praise? It’s hard to say it’s more advernturous than Curiosity, but perhaps you have a different definition of the word than I do.

  • Lee S

    Sorry Richard… But you missed the “regarding the search for life on Mars ” bit of what I said…. The only mission to actively search for “life” on the red planet since was the bargain basement ESA Beagle 2, which came so close to working, but failed to deploy it’s solar panels.
    NASA has consistently refused to do a real search for extinct or extant life since the ambiguity of the Viking results.

  • Dick Eagleson

    Lee S,

    You are, lamentably, spot on anent NASA’s longstanding aversion to actively seeking martian life. And yet NASA still periodically trumpets various half-baked “indications” of its possible presence on Mars. It’s as though the agency fears it will be shut down if it definitively fails to find extraterrestrial life in this “most likely” place.

    As to a suitable sackcloth-and-ashes meal in the event of ExoMars’s possible failure, it’s too bad you don’t live one country over – you could have lutefisk.

  • Richard M

    Hello Lee,

    I think Curiosity/MSL deserves more credit on this front. Three of its eight key science objectives are, after all: Determine the nature and inventory of organic carbon compounds; Investigate the chemical building blocks of life (carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and sulfur); and Identify features that may represent the effects of biological processes (biosignatures and biomolecules).

    Of course, Mars 2020 is going to be even more astrobiology focused (not least in its choice of landing site).

    I’ll be honest: I do not think there is, or ever was, life on Mars of any sort. It’s worth looking anyway, to be sure, though I start to wonder about how much the search for life or life precursors is crowding out other Martian science.

  • Diane Wilson

    What NASA learned from Viking was that the question of life on Mars was more complicated than they knew at the time, and to be more circumspect about what they looked for, what they might find, and what those findings might mean. The “follow the water” strategy in recent decades has been both a search of possible sites for human use as well as for possible origins of life.

    I could consider the possibility of simple single-celled life during Mars’ warmer and wetter past, probably more like prokaryotes (no nucleus) than eukaryotes. I’m much less sanguine about anything still surviving, or any reliable and conclusive evidence.

  • Col Beausabre

    And what did the ESA pay NASA for the use of taxpayer funded facilities?

  • David M. Cook

    Col B, the payment was the ESA folks promised not to laugh when the SLS fails.

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