Scroll down to read this post.


My July fund-raising campaign, celebrating the 13th anniversary of the start of this website, has now ended. This was the second most successful monthly fund-raising campaign ever. Thank you again to everyone who has who donated or subscribed. It is difficult to explain what your support means to me.


You can still donate or subscribe to support my work if you wish, either by giving a one-time contribution or a regular subscription. There are four 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’s Mars Sample Return project now overbudget

According to testimony by NASA’s administrator Bill Nelson to a Senate committee, its Mars Sample Return (MSR) project now needs a lot of additional funds in order to have any chance of staying on schedule.

Nelson told the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee today that he just learned two weeks ago during a visit to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which is building MSR, that they need an additional $250 million this year and an additional $250 million above the request for FY2024 to stay on schedule for launch in 2028.

That FY2024 request warns that the projections for future MSR funding requirements are likely to grow and force NASA to descope the mission or reduce funding for other science projects. NASA just set up a second [independent review board] to take another look at the program.

The project is already beginning to suck money from other science missions, such as solar and astronomy and the Dragonfly mission to Saturn’s moon Titan. In addition, its method for getting the samples back to Earth remains somewhat uncertain due to ESA’s decision to not build a lander/rover for the mission, requiring JPL to propose the use of helicopters instead.

I predict Congress will fund everything, by simply printing more money as it nonchalantly continues to grow the national debt to levels unsustainable. Meanwhile, replacing the present very complex return concept — involving a lander, helicopters, an ascent rocket, and a return capsule (from Europe) — with a much cheaper and simpler option that is now on the horizon, Starship, does not seem to have occurred to any of the these government wonks.

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


  • Ray Van Dune

    Why doesn’t NASA rename the program the “Sample Late SNAFU” program”, so they can reuse all the propaganda materials they will have left over when SpaceX takes over the SLS program?

  • Call Me Ishmael

    “… does seem to have occurred to any of the these government wonks.”

    I have a feeling there should be a “not” in there.

  • Gary H

    What makes mars soil samples worth the expense? Will they provide a certain source of water, or some other materials of value?

  • Call Me Ishmael: I have insert the “not,” left out by mistake. Thank you.

  • sippin_bourbon

    NASA project over budget.

    In other news,
    Water is wet!
    Dog bites man!

  • M Puckett

    So much easier to give a shovel and a set of sample containers to SpaceX. Likely a lot quicker too, not to mention cheaper,

  • Jerry Greenwood

    “Welcome to JPL Mr director. I don’t know if any one has mentioned it but we’ll need an additional half billion real soon”.

  • Patrick Underwood

    Gary H, we have to get those samples back before the Chinese. WE MUST NOT ALLOW… A MARS SAMPLE GAP! :)

    And of course, officially, NASA must studiously ignore Starship at all costs. From page 95 of the just-released Moon-to-Mars Architecture Definition Document:

    “Super Heavy Lift Systems:
    Space Launch System flight
    design available. Commercial
    super heavy lift conceptual
    designs in development”


    By the time they get something to land and collect the samples, Elon Musk will just load it up for NASA by hand.

  • Ian C.

    “Starship, does not seem to have occurred to any of the these government wonks.”

    I attended the MSR Conference 2018. A SpaceX engineer presented future opportunities and none of the MSR scientists/managers cared (I chatted with a bunch of them). It was all about NASA and ESA and their “own” launchers/landers. They didn’t even acknowledge the existence of anything outside. Guess nothing has changed.
    Luckily, students (who showcased their rovers or instruments) and some independent suppliers/contractors were more open.

  • GaryMike

    SpaceX needn’t do anything.

    It’s NASA’s fail.

    SpaceX needs only to do SpaceX; coming in under-budget and on time.

    Drill holes make great markers. Drill nearby and return the duplicate samples earlier.

    Could, but won’t happen. It doesn’t actually contribute very much to the Multi-planetary mission. Lot’s of time later for such make-work efforts.

    Children playing in their sand boxes while the world turns..

  • Jeff Wright

    SLS at least supports energetics and LH2/NTR. JPL is a cadre of watchmakers…used to folding things up a dozen different ways. They also ignored SD-HLLV and Red Dragon based concepts. HLLVs of any stripe makes JPL’s watchmakers obsolete…and I mean to make them pay for the Clipper double-cross.

  • pzatchok

    Who wants to be the first geologists on Mars taking samples?

    Space X will be the first ones there with people and thus the first to return significant samples from a wide variety of places. Not just a few grams of dust from one or two regions.

    How many collage graduates would be willing to take a 5 year mission just to be the first to do something. Not counting the accumulated pay.

  • Ray Van Dune

    Well, like I said months ago, why not just ask the first SpaceX crew if they could bring the sample cartridges back in their carry-on luggage? Probably a faster solution, and several billion dollars cheaper.

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 *