Scroll down to read this post.


I am now in the third week of my annual February birthday fund-raising drive. The first two weeks were good, but not record-setting.


There are still two weeks left in this campaign however. If you have been a regular reader and a fan of my work and have not yet donated or subscribed, please consider doing so. I take no ads, I keep the website clean from pop-ups and annoying demands (most of the time). Thus, I depend entirely on my readers to support me. Though this means I am sacrificing some income, it also means that I remain entirely independent from outside pressure. By depending solely on donations and subscriptions from my readers, no one can threaten me with censorship. You don't like what I write, you can simply go elsewhere.


You can support me either by giving a one-time contribution or a regular subscription. There are five ways of doing so:


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.


2. Patreon: Go to my website there and pick one of five monthly subscription amounts, or by making a one-time donation.

3. A Paypal Donation:

4. A Paypal subscription:

5. Donate by check, payable to Robert Zimmerman and mailed to
Behind The Black
c/o Robert Zimmerman
P.O.Box 1262
Cortaro, AZ 85652

NASA: Europa Clipper’s cost rise; Mars sample return delayed

At a meeting this week NASA officials admitted that the cost of its Europa Clipper mission has risen by three quarters of a billion dollars, and that the sample return mission to bring back Perseverance’s core samples will be delayed, as well as now require two landers, not one.

NASA revealed significant changes to two of its flagship planetary science missions at today’s Space Science Week meeting at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. The cost for Europa Clipper, which will gather data as it makes multiple swingbys of Jupiter’s moon Europa, has grown from $4.25 billion to $5 billion. Separately, NASA and ESA are replanning the Mars Sample Return mission. Two landers are needed instead of one to retrieve samples from the surface of Mars and boost them into orbit for their trip back to Earth. The launches will be in 2028 instead of 2026.

The sample return mission itself is also growing in complexity:

A Sample Fetch Rover will be sent to collect them and take them to a Mars Ascent Vehicle — a rocket — that will shoot them into Martian orbit where they will be transferred to an Earth Return Orbiter for the trip back to Earth.

Initially the plan was for the fetch rover and ascent vehicle to be launched together in 2026, and the Earth Return Orbiter in 2027. But Zurbuchen decided to convene an Independent Review Board in 2020 to get an impartial assessment of the plan by outside experts. The Board cautioned that 2026 was “not achieveable” with 2028 a more realistic date, and that the “program’s schedule and cost are not aligned with its scope.”

Consequently, NASA now has replanned the mission with two landers — one each for the fetch rover and ascent vehicle — instead of one. Both landers will launch in 2028. The Earth Return Orbiter will still launch in 2027. The samples will get back to Earth in 2033.

Prediction: The launch of this fleet of sample return spacecraft will be further delayed, and its overall cost will rise, by a lot. In fact, it is very possible that SpaceX’s Starship will have already returned samples from Mars before NASA’s mission gets off the ground.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit. If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.

The audiobook is also available at all these vendors, and is also free with a 30-day trial membership to Audible.

"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs."--San Antonio Express-News

One comment

  • Patrick Underwood

    NASA: “SpaceX, on which we rely for ISS resupply and crew rotation, and with whom we’ve contracted to build the lunar Human Landing System, is developing a huge rocket, mostly on its own dime, which is absolutely essential to our Artemis program’s success. And, the stated goal of their company is to put humans on Mars with that same big rocket we’ll be relying on in a few years. But hey, let’s absolutely ignore their capabilities and goals, which might otherwise mesh perfectly with our own, becuz… well, uh, becuz…”

    I’ve noticed NASA doesn’t even like to include pictures of the Starship HLS in its Artemis presentations.

    Our entire government now seems entirely disconnected from the real world and any ability to make rational decisions. As Glenn Reynolds likes to say, “we’re in the very best of hands.”

Readers: the rules for commenting!


No registration is required. I welcome all opinions, even those that strongly criticize my commentary.


However, name-calling and obscenities will not be tolerated. First time offenders who are new to the site will be warned. Second time offenders or first time offenders who have been here awhile will be suspended for a week. After that, I will ban you. Period.


Note also that first time commenters as well as any comment with more than one link will be placed in moderation for my approval. Be patient, I will get to it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *