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.

NASA lays out Artemis budget and plan to get astronauts to Moon

In a obvious lobbying effort to get Congress to fund the Trump administration’s Artemis project to land humans on the Moon by 2024, NASA yesterday released a new updated plan and budget for the program.

More here.

The document [pdf] outlines the specific plans for each of the first three Artemis flights, with the first unmanned, the second manned and designed to fly around the Moon, and the third to land a man and a woman on the Moon. Overall the plan is budgeted at about $28 billion, with $3.2 billion needed immediately to fund construction of the lunar lander. From the second link:

Bridenstine said he remains optimistic Congress will fully fund lander development because of what he described as broad bipartisan support for the Artemis program. He said he’s hopeful an expected continuing resolution that would freeze NASA’s budget at last year’s spending levels will be resolved in an “omnibus” spending bill before Christmas or, if the CR is extended, by early spring. “It is critically important that we get that $3.2 billion,” he said. “And I think that if we can have that done before Christmas, we’re still on track for a 2024 moon landing. … If we go beyond March, and we still don’t have the human landing system funded, it becomes increasingly more difficult.”

And what happens then?

“It’s really simple. If Congress doesn’t fund the moon landing program, then it won’t be achieved (in 2024), I mean it’s really that simple,” Bridenstine said. But he quickly added: “I want to be clear, if they push the funding off, our goal will be to get to the moon at the earliest possible opportunity.”

I remain doubtful the present Congress, with the House controlled by the Democrats, will fund this 2024 lunar landing. Since 2016 the entire political platform of the Democratic Party has been “oppose anything Trump.” They will not fund this project if it means he will get this landing during his second term.

If however Trump loses in November, the lame duck Congress might then go ahead and fund it before December, since the landing in 2024 will then occur during the Biden presidency.

Technically the plan reveals that NASA is trying to accelerate the development of the rendezvous and docking software for Orion. During the second flight, the first manned, the crew will do proximity maneuvers with the upper stage of the rocket. Under previous management NASA had not included this ability, as they had not planned to have Orion do any rendezvouses or dockings. That lack makes it impossible for Orion to fly on any other rocket but SLS. This change means the Trump administration recognizes this is a problem, and wants to fix it, especially because they also recognize that SLS is a poor long term option for future lunar missions.

Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar below. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.


Regular readers can support Behind The Black with a contribution via paypal:

Or with a subscription with regular donations from your Paypal or credit card account:


If Paypal doesn't work for you, you can support Behind The Black directly by sending your donation by check, payable to Robert Zimmerman, to
Behind The Black
c/o Robert Zimmerman
P.O.Box 1262
Cortaro, AZ 85652


  • Steve Richter

    is SLS the only rocket in use/development today which uses solid rocket boosters? Does China use SRB in the long march rockets? An SRB can lift more weight into space than liquid fuel?

    Just thinking that if SRB is/could be superior technology, it is worthwhile for NASA to spend what it takes to get such a system operational.

    ( eager to read a Bob review of the Challenger documentary. )

  • geoffc

    @steve richter – First stages need a lot of thrust for a short period of time (2 min run time or so).

    Solids can do that better than liquid fueled. SRB is 2.8 million lbs of thrust (EACH!) That is, as they say, a crap load of thrust.

    F-9 is only 1.8 million lbs of thrust or so and that uses 9 engines. The largest thrust engines were probably the F-1 (1.5 going to 1.8 million lbs thrust) and mayeb the RD-170 (1.8 million lbs).

    So to replace an SRB you need either a new liquid engine (since F-1 is long since out ofo service and RD-170’s I suppose are technically available, not sure they are actually being manufactured, but the 180, 190, and 171 are all variants) on the scale of the F-1 or a cluster of smaller ones.

    Also, the military likes Solid boosters for ICBM’s and they like to keep the companies in business since you don’t really use up yur ICBM’s all that often (Thank G-d!). In some ways, Vega using a solid is to help keep the missile manufacturers open in Europe…

  • pzatchok

    Why are they wasting a flight just to fly around the moon with a crew?

    Are they afraid that they have forgotten how to do it in the last 50 years?

    Send the first one into Lunar orbit as a both a relay station and maybe an emergency supply depot.

  • LocalFluff

    Yeah, it’s crazy. Apollo 8 was motivated because they went much further than any humans had before (and Apollo 13 used the same then proven maneuver to get home, didn’t they?) And for the prestige of the space race at the time.

    But now those poor astronauts, if they survive the SLS fraud, will be asked:
    “- Where did you go?
    – Nowhere!
    – Okay… hooray not so much.”

  • Skunk Bucket

    Of course if Biden wins and the Democrats fund Artemis, the landing (if it indeed happens within four years) will actually happen during a HARRIS presidency.

  • Edward

    pzatchok wrote: “Why are they wasting a flight just to fly around the moon with a crew? Are they afraid that they have forgotten how to do it in the last 50 years?

    Actually, it is a bold move. One would expect that this shakedown cruise would occur in Earth Orbit, but the plan laid out shows that only two orbits will be in Earth orbit before they perform the translunar injection burn.

    Page 15 of the PDF link (“NASA’s Lunar Exploration Program Overview”) in Robert’s post says that NASA plans unmanned tests of the landers during the time frame of the first manned flight:

    Human exploration under the Artemis program will begin with the crewed flight test of SLS and Orion on Artemis II in 2023. In this same time frame, NASA and its commercial HLS partners also plan to conduct in-space flight testing of the lander system, including potential tests to the lunar surface.

    This means that there won’t be any landers available until the second manned flight. Apollo 8 had originally been planned as the flight to check out the Apollo lunar lander, but the lander was not ready in time. Apollo 8 came after the Apollo 7 checkout flight, so there was confidence that the Apollo Command and Service Modules were capable of a lunar flight.

    In my eye, NASA is back on track to being bold.

  • sippin_bourbon

    “Apollo 13 used the same then proven maneuver to get home, didn’t they?”

    Not sure what your referring to LocalFluff.

    Apollo 8 entered performed a braking burn to Lunar orbit and performed 10 laps, and then performed the TEI (Trans Earth Injection).

    Apollo 13 went around the moon in a Free Return Trajectory, and never performed a braking burn to enter Lunar Orbit.

Readers: the rules for commenting!


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.

Leave a Reply

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