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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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InSight pauses science operations to conserve power

The science team for the InSight lander on Mars have been forced to suspend science operations because dust on the solar panels is reducing the available power.

InSight’s solar panels were producing just 27% of their energy capacity in February, when winter was arriving in Elysium Planitia. So NASA decided to start incrementally turning off different instruments on the lander. Soon the robot will go into “hibernation mode,” shutting down all functions that aren’t necessary for its survival.

By pausing its scientific operations, the lander should be able to save enough power to keep its systems warm through the frigid Martian nights, when temperatures can drop to negative-130 degrees Fahrenheit. “The amount of power available over the next few months will really be driven by the weather,” Chuck Scott, InSight’s project manager, said in a statement.

InSight is still in good condition – it’s even using its robotic arm – but the risk of a potentially fatal power failure is ever-present. If the lander’s batteries die, it might never recover.

As with the rovers Spirit and Opportunity, InSight engineers have depended on periodic strong wind events to periodically clean off the solar panels. Unfortunately, these events are somewhat random, and for the past few months none have occurred.

Note: the article at the link says that winter was arriving at InSight’s location in February, but this is incorrect. InSight sits at about 4 degrees north latitude. In February the end of winter was approaching in the northern hemisphere. More to the point, sitting at the equator you wouldn’t really expect InSight to experience much seasonal changes regardless.

It therefore seems that these issues had less to do with the seasons and much more to do with the accumulating dust on the panels.

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.


  • Col Beausabre

    OK, we know there is a problem with dust on the panels and depend on luck to clean them off. One of these days we’re going to get unlucky and lose a very expensive piece of hardware. The obvious solution is to build a cleaning mechanism for the power supply. Let’s see, we’ve been using windshield wipers since the 1920-30’s or we could use a small air compressor with a swiveling head. I’d prefer monthly royalty checks, thank you.

  • Timothy Metcalfe

    Or a traveling bar like an Etch-a-sketch.

  • Max

    A thin long brush, pulled across the solar panels then pushed back again by a small motor that also vibrates, built into the brush. A screw mechanism similar to what is used in hard drives.
    Too bad a dust cloth wasn’t glued to the back of the digger arm. (Can you picture a feather duster? spinning on a drill mechanism?) Or a dust cloth associated with the mechanism that folds the solar panels out can be reversed for a cleaning motion.

    Compressed air is a good idea and is on the right track. Unfortunately, the weight of a compressor and tank associated with the power consumption might not be feasible. There’s also a static charge with moving air that results in the dust flying right back to the clean surface. (The same with a dust cloth or brush)
    A liquid canister of anti-static fast drying liquid, like circuitboard cleaner that leaves no residue, would be perfect and self pressurizing. If used occasionally, it would be well worth it giving years of life to the mobile unit.

    A spray tube on the digger arm, or brush, with a pre-programmed motion timed to the proper spray application could work to dispense the cleaning solution.
    (It could also be used to wash a rock sample… or as pepper spray against aggressive Martians)

  • Col Beausabre

    Max, I’m talking about the Martian atmosphere when I use the term “air”, would it exhibit the same static charge problem as Earth’s

  • Lee Stevenson

    I would say that NASA only uses solar power on stationery missions to Mars these days, where extended missions will only give limited returns. They have surely learned the lesson from Spirit and Opportunity, which could very well be still roving were they not solar powered. Thermo electric is definitely the way to go… Look at the Voyagers!

  • Max

    Col Beausabre,
    The carbon dioxide atmosphere has proven to be worse than earth, the dryness has accentuated the static charge. The sunlight is not hot, but it is unfiltered with UV rays which will break apart the CO2 resulting in free radicals similar to earth at 100,000 feet, above where ozone is created/produced from ionizing sunlight. Without a conductor, like water, to dampen the electric charge, any untreated surface that has a positive charge will attract negatively charged dust particles that float/repelled into the air because of the charge given to it by sunlight. Treated surfaces breakdown under ionizing radiation and do not last. Therefore the problem gets worse over time.
    A spring loaded billows pump may work to puff the dust but a continuous stream of air will build electrons creating a large Static field attracting dust like a powerful magnet. (like a balloon rubbed on your head and stuck to the ceiling)

    So, to fix the problem we must remove the charge. Spray cleaner designed for this purpose will neutralize the charge, remove the dust, and leave a coating to repel the dust until wind and sun deteriorate the coating making it necessary for another application. Just like the wax on your car.

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