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.

Russians find serious problems with three Proton rockets

As a result of a new quality control inspection system, the Russians have discovered that three Proton rockets delivered for launch had serious issues, and have sent them back to the manufacturer.

Three Proton-M heavy-lift launch vehicles designated for launching satellites from the Baikonur Cosmodrome will be returned to the Khrunichev rocket manufacturer in Moscow so that low-quality parts can be replaced, a source in the space and rocket industry has told Sputnik.

The defective parts, believed to have been manufactured between 2015 and 2016, were said to have been discovered last month due to checks under a new quality control system introduced by Roscosmos. “Having analyzed the situation, experts came to the conclusion that the replacement of the [faulty] components on the three Proton-M rockets located at Baikonur could only be done at the factory,” the source said.

Two of the rockets have already been loaded up onto a train and sent back, with the remaining rocket to be sent back at a later date.

This is a follow-up on the March 11th story where they had discovered “mismatched” parts on a Proton. They have also had to replace an entire stage on a Soyuz due a malfunction detected prior to launch.

While it is excellent news that the Russians are now catching these issues before launch, that they continue to have such problems at the manufacturing level is not good.

Their problem is that in Russia they do not permit competition. The government works hand-in-glove with the established players to lock out new companies. Thus, no natural mechanism exists to weed out bad operations. They are trying to do it with tighter inspections, but in the end, that just adds cost and slows operations.

Meanwhile, in a related story, the manufacturer of Soyuz rockets has suspended operations because of fear of the Wuhan virus. The suspension probably makes some sense, as they have a lot of rockets (52) already built.

Readers! My Quick November Fund-Raiser for Behind the Black is now over

I cannot thank the numerous people who so generously donated or subscribed to Behind the Black during this fund drive. The response was remarkable, and reflected the steady growth and popularity of the work I have been doing here for the past ten-plus years.

Thank you again!

Though the find-raising campaign is officially over, and I am no longer plastering the main page with requests for help, if you like what you have read you can still contribute, 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.

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  • pzatchok

    Do these problems of Russia make you feel better or worse about their nuclear arsenal?

  • Dick Eagleson

    Speaking for myself – better. The unimpressive reliability record of Russian liquid propellant rockets – in particular the recently retired ex-ICBM’s Dnepr and Rokot – make one hope that one reason the Russkies never essayed a sneak-attack launch at us even in the worst days of the Cold War is that they couldn’t trust their rockets to get the job done.

  • Chris

    I would think the USA has the best intentions and practice in handling our nuclear weapons of all in the “nuclear club”. However, the book below speaks to our mishaps. If we are the best, I worry about others. In addition, these mishaps by the US point too why we need to keep the nuclear club from expanding…more members mean more places for accidents let alone more places where these things would be used.
    In addition, there is the issue of securing these weapons. Even here the US has problems…. The 50 (?) nuclear B61 bombs being held “hostage” at Incirlik Turkey point to an issue of security. The second link below speaks to how we may have removed these in 2109 and how tricky and politically difficult it would be.
    The article mentions how these gravity bombs have a disable command code that “fries the electronics” to disable the weapon. Would other countries have such capabilities on their weapons? And even if disabled from an electronic standpoint does this leave the captured weapon capable as a dirty bomb, or as the enriched material for a different bomb.

    In any case, nuclear weapons bring a truly new quantum level of concern. And with this I think we need to keep the nuclear club as small as possible.

  • Col Beausabre

    “The article mentions how these gravity bombs have a disable command code that “fries the electronics” to disable the weapon. Would other countries have such capabilities on their weapons?”

    Sounds like the Permissive Action Link and yes, they do – we even gave some to the Soviets to install on their devices.

    In addition to not allowing unauthorized detonation, it has an anti-tampering device which will cause a misfire (“Fizzle”) destroying the weapon – probably rupturing the casing and scattering the fissile material

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