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

NASA safety panel on SLS schedule, Dragon explosion

NASA’s safety panel held a long scheduled meeting to review NASA’s on-going manned projects, and had the following to say:

The first story describes very little new information about the explosion on April 20th that destroyed the Dragon crew capsule during engine tests, other than it occurred in connection with the firing of the Dragon’s eight SuperDraco engines. I am being vague because they were.

The second story describes the panel’s strong objection to any effort by NASA to trim the test program for SLS in order to meet the Trump administration’s 2024 deadline for returning to the Moon. It also confirms officially for the first time that NASA will not be able to fly the first unmanned mission of SLS in 2020. That flight is now expected in 2021, a decade after NASA began development of SLS, and seventeen years after George Bush Jr first proposed NASA build this heavy-lift rocket.

That’s practically one person’s entire career at NASA. Seems pretty shameful to me.

While I actually agree with the panel’s advice in both of these stories, both stories however do reflect the overall culture of this safety panel: Go slow, take no risks, be patient. This culture is in fact so cautious that it has served to practically make impossible any American exploration of space, on our own rockets.

Based on what I expect now during the investigation of the Dragon explosion, I would not be surprised if the panel successfully delays the first manned Dragon launch another year or two or three.

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.


  • pzatchok

    “The firing was intended to demonstrate integrated systems SuperDraco performance in two times vehicle level vibro-acoustic-like for abort environments,” Sanders said. Sanders explained that the test was simulating the Falcon 9 rocket below the spacecraft breaking apart and triggering an abort.

    I wonder if the vibrations caused a cavitation in the liquid fuel tanks or lines and caused the engines to “stutter
    ” or “burp” which in turn caused a chamber explosion.

  • Edward

    The Atlantic article mischaracterizes SpaceX. SpaceX was just as silent after its CRS pad explosion. From the article: “In a rare moment of reticence, Musk has not yet publicly addressed the incident.” Such silences have not been so rare after other SpaceX explosions. There really is not much to say until the company has an idea of what happened. Otherwise it is just speculating, and if their speculations turn out to be wrong, the complaint would become that they had lied and tried to mislead the public, covering up some other problem.

    As for the paragraph:
    SpaceX declined to verify the authenticity of the video. But this week, a NASA contractor that supports launch operations in Florida sent an internal email warning its employees that they can be fired if they share the video. The message, reported by the Orlando Sentinel, confirmed that the footage was real.

    The reality of the footage is not confirmed by this message. For all The Atlantic knows, the contractor may know that the footage is bogus and does not want any of its employees sharing a bogus video as though it were authentic.

    Did anyone get on Boeing’s case when it did not even announce that it had a problem with its escape system until after they knew they could fix it? No. Boeing didn’t have much to say until the company had an idea of what happened. For a month no one even knew that there had been a problem. The Atlantic article points out this double standard, claims that the standard should be the same, yet fails to write its own “scathing editorials about that,” and excuses Boeing’s secrecy merely because their problem was able to be kept secret. The Atlantic lets Boeing get away scot-free with its own lack of transparency. Does The Atlantic believe the standard should be the same or not? The editorial board’s actions, or lack thereof, speak for them.

    Here is how The Atlantic announced Boeing’s problem, last year:
    Skip down to the very last paragraph (oh, and it’s the same author):

    Last month, Boeing’s Starliner experienced an “anomaly” at the company’s facility in New Mexico during a test of the spacecraft’s launch-abort engines, which are supposed to safely push astronauts to safety in case of an accident early on in a flight. According to Boeing, the engines ignited and fired as planned but eventually sprung a propellant leak. The company said it is investigating the glitch, and that it is repairable.

    What a “scathing editorial.”

    However, only SpaceX is accused of having something to hide and is compared with NASA seeming to have something to hide after the Challenger disaster. Perhaps The Atlantic is really complaining that, while it investigates this problem, SpaceX’s usual openness is replaced with something similar to what The Atlantic has accepted from Boeing: not-so-openness.

    The Atlantic article shows a news outlet complaining about not having speculation and fake news to present to the public. Many news outlets, such as The Atlantic, seem willing — maybe even eager — for their audiences to draw false conclusions based upon early speculated fake news, just as happened to NASA after Challenger. To this day, I have yet to hear a single news outlet correct or apologize for the the outright lies they continually told about NASA’s waivers.

  • pzatchok

    I only linked to the article. Don’t blame me for its poor content.

    I believe the publications like The Atlantic pass on science articles to new writers who have nothing better to do.And obviously not a scintilla of science education.

    The only facts in the article about the video would only make up two or three sentences. The whole rest of the article is opinion or at best rehashed data from barely related articles.

    500 words or its not printable. As long as the spell checker says its good that is all that matters to the editor.

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 *