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.

First manned Artemis Moon mission might not go to south pole

In order to meet the Trump administration’s 2024 deadline for the first Artemis manned lunar landing, NASA is now considering sending that first mission to an equatorial target, rather than the Moon’s south pole.

The Artemis program landing site issue came up at two separate events with agency leaders this week, beginning with NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine’s comments to open a digital meeting held by a NASA advisory group called the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group, on Monday (Sept. 14).

“For the first mission, Artemis 3, our objective is to get to the south pole,” Bridenstine said. “But … it would not surprise me if, for example, if we made a determination that the south pole might be out of reach for Artemis 3, which I’m not saying it is or isn’t,” interest in the Apollo sites may win out.

The engineering to get to the polar regions is more challenging, so rather than delay that first mission they are considering simplifying it instead.

The fact remains that Congress has still not funded any Artemis missions beyond the first unmanned and first manned flights, neither of which will land on the Moon. Whether that money will ever be forthcoming really depends entirely on the November election, as well as the success or failure of the upcoming full-up static fire engine test of the SLS first stage.


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  • LocalFluff

    I hope that SLS blows up in the launch pad. That would help kill that theft. Who here joins me on Cape Canaveral chanting “Blow up! Blow up!” during countdown, and cheer as the tremendous explosion turns the launch pad into a crater? I expect the date of SLS’ first and final launch attempt will be around the year 2025.

  • john hare

    as much as I despise sls and what it stands for, I’m not with you on this. Wishing evil on others is not a good thing. sometimes necessary to bring the evil in terms of a fist or fire mission, but with an unclouded mind.

  • sippin_bourbon

    While I think SLS is a money pit, I would never wish for that scale of failure. Such a set back would change public perception. Label it as too dangerous, and too expensive and give politicians and excuse to wait another 50 years.

    The more likely event is that the program will be cancelled, and it will end up as another decoration in a rocket park.

    If the current admin wins in NOV, but the House does not change hands, they will push to cancel it, or fail to properly fund, or introduce new requirements to hamstring the effort. They cannot have Trump in the history books as the man who took us back to the Moon. Their vision is that small. They are more worried about political points than the advancement and achievement of the nation.

    If they lose in NOV the new admin will cancel it, and create a new money pit program to pay off more contractors and funnel more money to select districts and/or states (the status quo for deep space missions since the end of Apollo).

    Either way, I have never had hopes for this program. The path to the moon at this point, seems more likely in the commercial sector. Sadly, this too is vulnerable.

    As always, I hope I am wrong. I would love to see a return to the moon in my lifetime. I was too young to witness and remember Apollo 17.

    It has been just shy of 48 years since the last human stepped on the moon (12/14/72).
    The argument was always “we have plenty of problems right here we need to solve first”.
    The problems mentioned are the problems we have had for millennia, and will always exist.. so its an excuse.

  • LocalFluff

    SLS is such a historic total failure that it would’ve been much much cheaper to keep launching the shuttle, uncrewed. SLS will never fly, that has never been the intention. No one involved is interested in having it fly, that is all but apparent by now. SLS is a fraud that has stolen 20% of NASA’s budget during the last decade. Everyone involved should be fired and prosecuted. Those who are not outright criminal are inept. That it will blow up is not only what I hope for, that is my prediction.

  • Ray Van Dune

    If I were Trump I would be sitting down for a private chat with Spacex, subject “What will it take to land a crewed Starship on the Moon in 2023?” Then I would open the Oval Office door and welcome a handful of my best billionaire friends, checkbooks in hand, while pulling my own checkbook out of my pocket. “Okay boys, we have a world to inspire, so let’s get this done.”

  • Captain Emeritus

    There are far too many federal, state and local boondoggle projects to list.
    What I try to keep in mind is, most all the tax payer’s money, essentially stays in the U.S.
    It trickles back down through every aspect of our economy.
    Paychecks, mortgage payments, food on the table.
    Certainly a lot gets skimmed off, but someone has to buy the GulfStreams, supercars, and keep other high end production lines open.
    I am far more concerned about hanging on to the Constitutional Republic we love so much.
    I was deployed, three times, to the other side of the planet to kill communists, and here they are burning, looting, race-baiting, causing chaos in our great cities.
    The communist pandemic is far more deadly than some stupid virus.
    I believe, if the Republicans can hold the presidency, the senate regain the house, then the best is yet to come.
    Semper Fidelis

  • Spectrum Shift

    I believe the SLS program will be the last NASA funds. Yes, it will end up in a rocket park, cancelled. SpaceX has the launch market now, and even NASA has voted so with launch contracts. While Star Trek was tv sci-fi with warp drive, NASA was real. I grew up absorbing NASA “firsts”, Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo. My support for anything NASA was completely erased by the Challenger disaster. I now support men of means and vision, such as SpaceX. I think the next American flag planted on the moon will be on a staff with SpaceX written on it, and when the camera pans on the lunar lander, it won’t have a NASA emblem on it either.

  • Steve

    SLS is taking so long to field that it is now obvious that smarter, nimbler, launch providers will overtake it. I’m betting it will not fly more than the two already funded missions, followed by cancellation. To hope for it to blow up on the pad is wrong. You should rethink that comment.

  • Edward

    SLS exploding or otherwise being a terrible failure is not a good wish. sippin_bourbon is correct in that successes are far, far better than failures. What we really need is for everyone to see that SLS is not economically competitive with the competition, which so far is mostly Starship, rather than see that our rocket industry can’t do it right. This is how NASA lost Spectrum Shift’s support, and we can expect more lost support after future failures, as happened with Columbia.

    Blue Origin has mentioned New Armstrong as a future super heavy launch vehicle, and I hope that they are successful with it. The more competition that enters the field, the lower the costs, and the more that gets done in space. However, this only happens if investors believe that the American space industry knows what it is doing. If the investors lose confidence then the space industry loses capital investment.

    Ray Van Dune,
    I think that SpaceX is doing this strategy very well on its own and on its own terms rather than having to follow any government interference. Trump getting directly involved risks too much interference, especially when Trump’s involvement is not needed.

    Captain Emeritus wrote: “What I try to keep in mind is, most all the tax payer’s money, essentially stays in the U.S. It trickles back down through every aspect of our economy.

    The problem with the Apollo expenditures is that it brought back some prestige and some science, but there was great potential for a tremendous amount of additional knowledge and development from, in, and around space. Abandoning most of the Apollo Applications Program meant losing a lot of opportunity for science, engineering, and advancement in space. We are at least a quarter of a century behind where we could have been, had we not abandoned our space aspirations from the 1960s.

    The real advantage, however, is when the money that is spent produces something worthwhile. This is what we expect from commercial space, because for-profit companies must come up with goods and services that benefit people or companies so that they willing to buy. Earth is the initial customer base, for the benefit of Earth,

    Thus, not only does the commercial money continue to trickle down through the economy but it results in better lives for everyone in the country and in the world.

  • john hare

    the money spent on sls, orion and such may stay in the country. the productivity of the people involved is gone forever. it’s like the 8 years in college getting a degree in beer pong, the lost years never come back. the people involved would contribute more to society if they were working as fruit pickers.

    (keyboard dying, replacing today)

  • LocalFluff

    Fight fire with fire! Evil with evil.
    I’m sorry for the cubesat suppliers who will lose their Lunar orbital cargo because they chose an inept transporter on the first and last SLS launch attempt. But they fell victims to a fatal conceit. Better luck next time, it’s a learning process.

    Main engines and solid boosters that have been sleeping in storages for decades. I give that lesser than a fat chance. SLS is made to fail operationally, after already having been the worst rocket failure ever in design and construction. Burying this monstrous witch with its fuel and oxygen all combusted at once at its launch stake would be a blessing. It would be horrible if this fraudulent Thing actually manages to put some cubesats in Lunar orbit. Because then they’ll try again, and perhaps with a living crew.

  • wayne

    I don’t care where they geographically spent the money; first off, they borrowed it all and will never repay it, secondly– they took it by force under threat of violence, and thirdly– we will never know to what productive use the money could have been put….

    Frederic Bastiat
    “On the Seen and Unseen”
    Marginal Revolution University

  • wayne

    I don’t care where they geographically spent the money; first off, they borrowed it all and will never repay it, secondly– they took it by force under threat of violence, and thirdly– we will never know to what productive use the money could have been put….

    Frederic Bastiat
    “On the Seen and Unseen”
    Marginal Revolution University

  • LocalFluff

    My prognosis is that Artemis will not go to the Lunar south pole. And that it will not go to the Lunar equator. And not to the Lunar surface at all. Not even to Lunar orbit, or any fly by. The pretend-crew will climb aboard the mock up Orion ontop of the never-fly SLS for a photo opportunity. Then they will climb down again. Then nothing will happen with that. Very dramatic! But safe. What is the purpose of NASA, other than proving that half of human kind are women? (MAJOR discovery there!)

  • Edward

    You wrote: “Fight fire with fire! Evil with evil.

    I don’t know how that relates to your initial wish or to my response.

    If SLS explodes, I am not so worried that investors will lose confidence in cubesats or other satellites as I am worried that they will lose confidence in launch providers. There are several companies working on small launchers, similar to Rocket Lab, who could help provide competition and capabilities for their satellite customers, giving them more flexibility and lower launch costs. New Armstrong and Skylon have the potential to compete with Starship, and others could possibly find various efficiencies to beat out Starship. I would hate to see them delayed or lost because of one undesirable rocket.

    Many, many new companies rely upon NASA for assistance with ideas, designs, and methods, and an exploding SLS will reduce the confidence that they and others have that the talented and skilled workers at NASA have much to offer. You may wish for NASA and Boeing to be incompetent, but the rest of us realize that we still rely upon them for future space hardware.

    We should be fighting inefficient design, development, and construction with efficient versions and fighting inefficient operations with efficient operations. We should be showing the world that we are getting better not that we are getting worse. This is one of the reasons that I am disappointed that Congress directed NASA to make a launch system that reverted to 1960s thinking.

    Each time SpaceX announces a proposal, it seems to be ahead of its time. This is much better than Congress’s terrible directives to NASA, which make them behind the times.

    Unfortunately, until a competitive alternative is operational we cannot expect Congress to abandon SLS, even after an explosion of a test launch.

  • LocalFluff

    Since NASA has spent 20% of its budget last decade on this fraud, people do very well to lose confidence in that incompetent criminal organization!

    NASA should be abolished! For the best of space exploration. The working fragments of it, like astrophysics, planetary science, heliophysics should be spread out to universities and other such institutes. The rest just abolished as it is criminal and has no ambition to contribute to space exploration, but only to steal tax money using that false label. NASA has zero competence to develop rocket launchers. NASA has become a very very bad word to have in the resumé in the eyes of employers.

    SLS never had any honest purpose. It would’ve been $35 billion cheaper to launch the four space shuttles uncrewed to put cargo in orbit. Even if the shuttles would not be landed but burned up in the atmosphere. And besides financing a dozen Curiosity rovers on Mars or Cassini at Saturn that way, it would’ve made some actual use! That’s how much that SLS fraud has devastated. I do hope it blows up and takes away its launch pad with it.

  • Edward

    You really don’t understand much about NASA, its funding, or even SLS. NASA has a lot of competence, but Congress holds the pursestrings, and when Congress directs NASA to design a rocket a certain way, then NASA must do it that way. SLS is Congress’s baby, and it treats it as such. Congress wanted a big rocket, and told NASA how to build it, as though Congress were the rocket scientists. They didn’t care that SLS had no purpose, they just wanted it, and certain favored companies had to build it.

    Please do not blame the employees at NASA for Congressional idiocy. Employers in the U.S. know that NASA has top notch people, and they are very desirable additions to any company. Mismanagement at NASA comes from Congress and it also came from Obama’s administration, who left NASA in a state of abundant strategic confusion, as Paul Spudis phrased it in his book The Value of the Moon. JPL, which has little political interference, runs very well and still does good work.

    Because SLS and Orion were designed without a mission in mind, they are not well suited to any particular mission. Like most people, Congress thinks that a rocket is a rocket and does not understand the nuances of different designs. This has resulted in Artemis being put together piecemeal from what is available rather than being planned from the beginning as a project with specific needs and goals. It is one of the major differences between Apollo and Artemis. A similarity is that both intended to continue on with additional applications in space.

    Starship is also designed rather generically, but it should operate inexpensively enough and be able to fly often enough that multiple launches — necessary due to its limitations — should not cause undue concern. As a rocket, without considering costs and launch cadence, SLS is superior to Starship. As an overall system, it will undoubtedly be inferior.

    The good news is that SpaceX and Blue Origin are commercial companies with plans to build launchers that compete easily with SLS. The bad news is that neither of these alternatives has yet been shown to work. SLS has had sufficient testing to show that it should operate close to its design parameters. Unfortunately, this operation is at high cost. Just like Ariane V, SLS is expensive due to political interference. Eliminating this kind of interference is one of many reasons for NASA to switch to commercial launchers, landers, and science payloads as soon as it can.

    Fortunately, NASA has several programs running right now that are doing exactly this. NASA has a much better sense of strategy, and is now working toward these strategic goals. Disbanding NASA now would only throw America’s space program right back into tragic strategic confusion. Far too many upstart startup space companies rely upon NASA as a customer as well as for technical support. In the future this should change so that commercial companies run their own shows, but we are still at least a decade away from NASA becoming a minor player in the space business, and the space business being able to survive with it as a minor player.

  • LocalFluff

    It’s like you are excusing Hitler’s henchmen “We just followed orders!”
    If NASA people wanted to, they could’ve simply skipped the orbiting shuttle and put a satellite capsule on top of the launch stack by 2013. Like the bloody Soviet communists did in the 1980s with their Energia/Buran concept. But NASA failed.

    The congress might be interested in spending other peoples monies, but how is it in their interest to spend it on nothing? It would’ve been easier for them to spend more on a successful concept. Your conspiracy theory doesn’t work. NASA obviously lacks the competence to develop a rocket launcher!

    NASA was successful in the 1960s because they recruited people from the private industry. If NASA is now finally abolished, a new NASA founded some years later might be as successful thanks to external recruitment. It should’ve been an Apollo authority with a limited scope in mission and time.

    That the science instrument divisions are (mostly, there’s the JWST fiasco…) is because it is practically run by the global science community. Brilliant young guys and their bald headed teachers who know and care nothing about politics.

  • Edward

    Can you read BtB and be this obtuse or are you just trolling me, as your Hitler comment suggests? You really should have quit before you fell so far behind. You proved my point that you don’t understand NASA, its funding, or SLS.

    There is no moral violation in building SLS, and it really is a good rocket, except the cost and cadence are far worse than some of the rockets the commercial industry has started developing since SLS was commissioned. America’s budgets are required to be spent as Congress directs. To do otherwise would be immoral and fascist.

    The Space Shuttle was not designed to launch like Energia. Buran had no sustainer engines to take the assembly to orbit, so Energia could carry independent payloads all the way to orbit. Launching the Shuttle stack as you suggested would have resulted in two minutes of SRB thrust followed by the payload splashing into the ocean, assuming that you could have mounted a payload on the pointy top.

    Congress spends two trillion dollars every year on literally nothing. They give that money to individuals for not working or producing anything at all. Not only do we Americans get nothing for that money, but we end up with a smaller economy than we would have had if those people were working and productive as well as if we individuals and companies had been able to keep that tax money and spent it ourselves on goods and services. These expenditures on nothing at all are a true cluster bleep and make SLS look like we are getting excellent value for our tax money.

    SLS is successful, it just costs more and flies less than you and I want it to. It also does what Congress wants it to do.

    “Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.” — Pericles.

    This is what happened to Apollo, the rest of NASA, Constellation, and SLS-Orion. The workers that you compare to Hitler’s henchmen do not take much interest in politics, which is why they are not in upper management. They prefer to be subject matter experts.

    A new NASA founded some years from now? If the government thinks it is not worth having at this time, why do you presume that they would want to spend the money to create another? Those external recruits would not have the skills, talent, and expertise that the current people have. In either case, NASA would be just as susceptible to political interference in the future as it is today. As people have been complaining for more than half a century, money that goes to NASA could better be spent by giving it to the the individuals who do not work or produce anything at all.

  • LocalFluff

    Why are you lying? Is it because reality doesn’t fit your psychology and failed ideology?

    SLS doesn’t “cost”, it’s a theft! It doesn’t fly less often, it never flies. The rationale of the concept was a cheap quick fix to replace the shuttle, by removing the shuttle from the launch stack. That was the cover up for this fraud that has robbed NASA for a decade now.

    Energia flew completely successfully twice, once with the Buran shuttle on its back. And its side booster rockets, Zenith, flew individually as late as 2017. It was a genius (or rather pretty obvious) kind of modular approach. An SLS that can carry either a shuttle or a nose cone payload, with boosters that themselves can launch satellites to orbit. But NASA today is too incompetent to do what the Soviets did in the 1980s. NASA is too incompetent to even launch the STS launch stack with all engines already in storage and reused flight proven. That’s how very very bad the rot has become. And the roots to it is that NASA since the 1970s recruits people who never worked in the private industry, so they know nothing about how things are done.

    Your conspiracy theory about Congress wanting failures does not hold up for a minute. Even a gangster leader prefers success over failure for the same monies. NASA has become a corrupt incompetent bureaucracy. It’s only good parts consist of the international scientific community. Rocketry is business and NASA has since long now proven that they suck at that. They are 40 years behind the Soviets, caring more about “statistical gender equality” and such instead of achieving any result.

  • Edward

    You wrote: “Why are you lying? … SLS doesn’t “cost”, it’s a theft!

    OK. The answer is you are trolling.

  • Edward and LocalFluff: Both of you are beginning to shift from reasoned discussion to childish bickering. Please tone it down.

  • Edward

    I am done with this discussion. I thought that was clear.

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