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.

September 1, 2016 Zimmerman/Batchelor podcast

Embedded below the fold. I am sure that no one will be surprised that the focus was the Falcon 9 launchpad failure. Talked about other stuff though, including some of the neat planetary discoveries this week.


I must unfortunately ask you for your financial support because I do not depend on ads and rely entirely on the generosity of readers to keep Behind the Black running. You can either make a one time donation for whatever amount you wish, or you sign up for a monthly subscription ranging from $2 to $15 through Paypal or $3 to $50 through Patreon.

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.

Your support is even more essential to me because I not only keep this site free from advertisements, I do not use the corrupt social media companies like Google, Twitter, and Facebook to promote my work. I depend wholly on the direct support of my readers.

You can provide that support to Behind The Black with a contribution via Patreon or PayPal. To use Patreon, go to my website there and pick one of five monthly subscription amounts, or by making a one-time donation. For PayPal click one of the following buttons:


Or with a subscription with regular donations from your Paypal or credit card account:


If Patreon or Paypal don'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

Or you can donate by using Zelle through your bank. You will need to give my name and email address (found at the bottom of the "About" page). The best part of this electronic option is that no fees will be deducted! What you donate will be what I receive.


  • Localfluff

    I wonder why SpaceX was fueling the upper stage before they test fired the first stage.

    Earth’s diameter is about 13 times that of Ceres, so 11,000 feet would correspond to ~45 km. It would be a great place for telescopes.

  • Localfluff: As to your question about the fueling, this was a dress rehearsal for launch. I think I’ve mentioned that in comments now about three times, as well as I think during my podcast. During the actual launch, they fuel the 2nd stage as well as the first. Thus, in the dress rehearsal, they do this as well, following exactly the same procedure.

    As to the relative height of Ahuna Mons on Ceres compared to Earth, if I remember right during the podcast I think I guessed off the top of my head, without doing the math, that on Earth it would compare to a mountain somewhere around 30 to 50 miles high. If my memory is right, than my guess was pretty close, since 45 km equals about 28 miles.

  • Dick Eagleson

    SpaceX static fire tests aren’t just about the 1st stage, they’re pretty much full dress rehearsals for launch up to, and including, ignition, but stopping without liftoff. So both stages are fueled as they would be for launch. Many times, the payload is also atop the rocket, though this is apparently the customer’s choice.

  • Localfluff

    Okay, empty tanks are vulnerable to vibrations, I read somewhere.
    A better question is why the payload was mounted on the rocket during the hot-fire test? It’s not really a test then, it is doubling the risk of losing the payload at launch like this.

  • Localfluff

    Because of horizontal payload integration? Still, if they want to “test” with a dumb weight as payload and then take the Falcon down to put the real payload on afterwards. For crewed launches, maybe the Dragon could be on during the test firing, and the crew enter it afterwards.

  • Localfluff

    Does the SpaceX pad explosion affect the sale of the Israeli company which lost the satellite? That deal was mentioned here recently. I heard that this satellite was theirs.

  • Edward

    You have confused this dress rehearsal for a hot-fire test. For these dress rehearsals if the engines are ignited then it is shut down almost immediately. They are not fired for a long duration. It does not double the chances for losing the payload, as the procedure for ignition should not be nearly as hazardous as an actual launch.

    Payloads on the rocket may be part of the dress rehearsal, as there is often a check to make sure the payload has not failed before launch. That check is part of the procedure. If the payload does not pass an aliveness test before launch, then launching it eliminates the opportunity to fix it. Payloads do not often fail, but then again, rockets rarely explode before first stage ignition.

    The only other time, that I recall, that a rocket exploded before first stage ignition was the Nedelin catastrophe, in which many engineers and technicians were working around the rocket at the time.

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 *