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.

NASA selects three companies to provide lunar landers for its science instruments

Captalism in space: NASA today announced the selection of three new companies to provide the agency lunar landers on which to fly its science instruments to the Moon.

The companies chosen:

  • Astrobotic of Pittsburgh has been awarded $79.5 million and has proposed to fly as many as 14 payloads to Lacus Mortis, a large crater on the near side of the Moon, by July 2021.
  • Intuitive Machines of Houston has been awarded $77 million. The company has proposed to fly as many as five payloads to Oceanus Procellarum, a scientifically intriguing dark spot on the Moon, by July 2021.
  • Orbit Beyond of Edison, New Jersey, has been awarded $97 million and has proposed to fly as many as four payloads to Mare Imbrium, a lava plain in one of the Moon’s craters, by September 2020.

If successful as awarded, the cost for these spacecraft will be minuscule compared to what NASA normally spends for its own planetary probes.

These contract awards are puzzling however in one way. All three companies are relatively unknown. None competed in the Google Lunar X-Prize, as did the American company Moon Express, which at one time was thought to be very close to launching. That Moon Express is not one of the winners here is mysterious. The only explanation I can come up with is the lawsuit that Intuitive Machines won from Moon Express in January 2018. Maybe that suit killed Moon Express, and made Intuitive Machines the winner today.


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  • A couple of quibbles with your descriptions… Oceanus Procellarum is a “dark spot” in the same way that the Pacific Ocean is a “pond”. Oceanus Procellarum is the largest of the Moon’s maria (flood basalt covered plains). Likewise, Mare Imbrium is properly an “impact basin” rather than a crater… again, one of the Moon’s dark regions or maria.

  • Bill Farrand: Those descriptions are not mine. I was actually cutting and pasting directly from the NASA press release. My eye was focused on the general locations, the amount of money, and the dates, so I didn’t notice the bad scientific descriptions of those locations.

    You need to speak to people at NASA about this. :)

  • Ian C.

    Astrobotic participated in the GLXP.

    And, Robert, you see why I say: “and then America wins.” iSpace (Japan) was funded with around $90M from the Japanese government and corporations and has booked two launches for 2020 (orbiter) and 2021 (lander), Israel did its (private) shot, India is aiming its (state) shot, the Chinese are there and will add more soon. Long time there’s silence in America, and then suddenly…

  • wodun

    This is good news. A few days ago I was worried that NASA would go with just a single provider because of the focus on Blue Moon and the decision to award Maxar the power supply for Gateway. Maybe they still will go with a single lander provider if the humanned part is being rushed.

    This is the important part about what NASA wants to do on the Moon. The chart Ars posted a week or so ago shows yearly robotic missions to the lunar surface. Missions like these should help winnow site selection for any eventual base or outpost as well as do some general research, test technology, and help build up the industry.

    Only time will tell and the administration has been moving slow on this. One can only hope that SLS goes the way of the dinosaur in the next year or two and that SH/S development proceeds without any major hiccups.

  • Dick Eagleson


    The administration has actually been moving as fast as it can on this. The whole CLPS program was conceived shortly after Bridenstine took office and cancelled the Lunar Resource Prospector mission, which, in typical NASA fashion, was proceeding, lethargically, to build a gold-plated lander that would take multiple instruments to a single place on the Moon by sometime in the mid-2020’s. Now, we’ll be seeing results from a bunch of landers at widely varied sites by that time for the same or less money. What has held up the works to this point, is that the lander firms themselves weren’t ready to go. At least three of them now seem able to be ready within the next year or so.

    I share your hopes, and your expected timeline, for the death of SLS. I think it will die of two causes:

    1) SLS will fail to be able to launch the EM-1 mission by the end of 2020 or even by 1Q 2021.

    2) SpaceX’s SHS will have been to Earth orbit and back at least once by the end of 2020.

    That should see SLS zeroed out, except for contract termination and other incidental wind-up expenses, in the proposed FY 2022 NASA budget with other Artemis-related stuff slated to get the reallocated money. Orion will likely survive for a time, but it may well be gone too by the time the first U.S. boots to touch lunar soil in more than 50 years are being laced up.

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