Conscious Choice cover

From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.


“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.


Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and 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.

Schiaparelli landing apparently a failure

This report from provides some details about the apparent landing failure of the European Mars probe Schiaparelli on Wednesday.

The very preliminary analysis of the data revealed a number of serious problems in the final phase of the parachute descent. The telemetry showed that the back heat shield holding the parachute had been ejected earlier than scheduled — 50 seconds instead of 30 seconds before the touchdown. Also, the lander was apparently descending at a speed higher than planned. There were also indications that the soft-landing engines had fired for only three or four seconds and all communications from the lander were cut 19 seconds later, or shortly before touchdown. By that time, Schiaparelli’s landing radar had been activated.

It appears the parachutes were released too soon so that they did not function properly and slow the spacecraft down enough. When the retro-rockets fired the spacecraft was probably also closer to the ground than planned and falling too fast, so they failed to stop it from impacting the surface hard and prematurely.


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  • Gealon

    Probably a radio beam from Phobos, jammed up the onboard computer and gave it all of the instruction necessary to destroy the lander… or… you know… the lander was but a pale shadow of what was originally planned.

    I’m leaning towards Phobos though.

    In any case, without a camera to take surface pictures, this lander was doomed to obscurity from the start. People like pictures, without them no one was ever going to care what technology it was supposed to test. Now it’s just another sad statistic.

  • Kyle

    Has Russia ever successfully landed on Mars?

  • Kyle

    I meant to say Europe, they used a Russian rocket as a launching vehicle.

  • Kyle asked, “Has Russia ever successfully landed on Mars?”

    No. The closest they ever got was one Soviet lander, which sent back data for a few seconds, than failed.

  • Gealon

    To my knowledge they have a 100% failure rate. They’ve been much more successful with Venus though, although as I recall they have only ever returned one image from the surface. Something about lens caps not uncovering the lander cameras.

  • Gealon: The Soviet Venera landers returned more than one image, and they did it on multiple missions, Venera 9 and Venera 10 (October 1975) and Venera 13 and Venera 14 (March 1982).

  • Localfluff

    @Kyle Soviet soft landed a Mars X (don’t find the number immediately now) successfully once and received data from it. For a few seconds. Unfortunately, Mars was covered by a global dust storm then, which was probably the cause of its quick failure after landing. It was, like Viking, coupled with an orbiter which also failed after a few days or so. It couldn’t do any useful imaging of Mars because of the same global dust storm covering all of it. That was bad luck, not an engineering failure. It happened a couple of years before Viking, and would’ve been a sweet small revenge on Apollo if successful, and I think it also had an identical sister ship launched at the same time, which failed earlier in the normal way.

  • LocalFluff: Though it was thought for many years that the 1971 dust storm was what caused the failure of the Soviet Mars 3 lander after only 20 seconds on the surface, later information revealed that a certain computer chip used in all the Soviet Mars probes had a fundamental flaw that caused them to fail in the harshness in space.

    The sister ship, Mars 2, crashed upon landing. The orbiters were designed to take their pictures automatically as soon as they got into orbit, which means that all their images were useless because Mars was covered in a dust storm at the time.

    It seems to me that both you and Gealon should fork out the bucks and buy my Chronological Encyclopedia of Discoveries in Space. You would then have this information at your fingertips and would no longer have to guess, sometimes incorrectly. :)

  • Gealon

    Yes Robert, I went back and re-read the Venera material. Verena’s 13 and 14 where the only probes to successfully release their camera covers, 14 though released one of it’s covers in such a way that it blocked a soil probe. I think my memory about the single image comes from the Mars lander that operated for a short period of time. I’d do more reading and confirm the supposition but at this hour I’m at work and don’t have the time to spare. Thanks though for the input, and I will re-read the Mars material when I get home so I can put a name to that probe.

  • Localfluff

    I didn’t know that. Of course, I’m just adding up two and two from the secondary sources I find online. I don’t do original research.

  • wodun

    Pretty unlucky that the lens cap fell right where the probe, or scoop or whatever it was, was going to take a sample. Or was it poor planning?

  • Edward

    With the success of the TGO orbiter, Russia’s failure rate has just dropped a bit.

    Space is difficult, expensive, and dangerous. It is difficult because of the fuel needed, especially to get off the Earth and into orbit (as one commenter here once noted, the Rocket Equation is a bitch). It is expensive because it is design intensive and manufacturing intensive; we usually make “one” of each type (which really means not many of each type), there is rarely anything like mass production (Iridium, Globalstar and some other proposed satellite constellations being exceptions). It is dangerous because when things go wrong, they can catastrophically and suddenly end the mission.

    Notice that the US has often performed flyby missions before sending orbiters. Flyby missions are easier than getting into orbit (less fuel needed). Even ESA did a comet flyby of Halley’s Comet, using their Giotto spacecraft, three decades before they orbited Comet 67P/C-G. (One danger for Giotto was debris from the comet, which she apparently ran into while traveling through the coma, reducing the science returned.)

    I may want to add to the “difficult” part the fact that many important lessons are learned the hard way: in space. Which is a result of the danger to the spacecraft and adds to the expense of space exploration.

    Robert noted a lesson that the Soviets learned the hard way: “later information revealed that a certain computer chip used in all the Soviet Mars probes had a fundamental flaw that caused them to fail in the harshness in space.

    Despite being full of nothing, space is harsh. There is radiation that will kill your computers (and harm your crew, if exposed long enough), the vacuum will suck vapors out of many materials (so don’t use those materials in space), temperatures are burning hot on the sun-side and freezing cold a few feet away on the dark-side, things such as liquid fuels behave differently in zero-G, and the spacecraft is designed to be lightweight enough for the rocket to get it into space yet strong enough so that it survives vibrations from the launch rocket.

    Various problems can occur in space. The Japanese burned off the rocket nozzle on their Akatsuki satellite to Venus, but recovered well enough to get into orbit five years later. The US lost the Mars Observer satellite to Mars, most likely because of a leak in a valve (determining exact cause can be difficult with very little data sent back from millions of miles away). The US missed the Moon with its early launches in the early 1960s, sometimes because the launch rocket sent the probe way off course.

    The trick is to be able to learn those lessons when the best evidence is out of reach or, as with SpaceX’s recent failure, burned and melted on the pad. Fortunately, the article says, “ESA engineers expressed confidence that they had received enough data to find out exactly what happened, but it would take some time to sift through all the information and interpret the findings.”

  • Gealon

    Wodun, it was probably a combinations of both factors but more so just plain bad luck. When the lens cap popped off, it bounced or rolled at random. Chance happened to place it right under the soil probe. I can’t say what the design and testing culture was but evidently it either wasn’t considered a possibility, or was a remote possibility, that the discarded caps would interfere with the instruments. Had it been so considered I would imagine that the Russians would have tied the caps to the lander with a lanyard of some material sufficiently heat resistive to survive the environment and simply keep the caps from ending up in the way.

    As for the probe it’s self, it was a penetrometer to test the compressibility of the local soil, basically an arm that would drop to the ground with a sensor. Unfortunately the lens cap was in the way so the sensor, as the Wikipedia article amusingly states “ended up measuring the compressibility of the lens cap.”

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