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.

SpaceX finds clogged valves in several Merlin engines

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has discovered that the problem that caused a recent launch abort of a GPS satellite was a coating that clogged valves in several newer Merlin engines.

Hans Koenigsmann, vice president of build and flight reliability at SpaceX, said teams initially weren’t able to figure out why two of nine engines triggered early-start sensors on Oct. 2, which forced computers to automatically scrub seconds before liftoff. After the engines were removed and shipped to Texas for testing, the anomaly surfaced again when sensors detected higher-than-expected engine chamber pressures.

The cause: a minuscule, almost undetectable amount of “masking lacquer,” which is used to protect engine components and surfaces during the production process. The lacquer is almost like a bright red nail polish. “We found a relief valve – a little line that goes to the relief valve – blocked in the gas generator,” Koenigsmann told reporters Wednesday. “That little red substance was blocking a relief valve that caused it to function a little bit earlier than it was supposed to.”

The gas generators are almost like little rocket engines themselves – they’re used to power a pump that then feeds propellants into the main engine chamber. But the blockage caused certain processes to begin too early.

Once the lacquer was removed the engines functioned perfectly.

The issue was also found in two engines on the new booster that was going to launch astronauts to ISS, which explains why that mission was delayed. The company is swapping out the engines, and is still targeting November 14th for that launch. In addition, NASA wants it to fly at least two missions beforehand to demonstrate the problem is fixed. One will be that GPS satellite, on November 4th. The other could be one of three different payloads on SpaceX’s busy schedule.


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.


  • Phill O

    Interesting piece of troubleshooting!

  • Matt in AZ

    “NASA wants it to fly at least two missions beforehand to demonstrate the problem is fixed.”

    For any other contractor, or government-run project, that would be a significant delay.

  • sippin_bourbon

    Yeah, for SpaceX two missions is just a few weeks.

    Currently reading the Space Barons.
    Interesting “high level” background of the private space race.
    Does not get into the weeds as much as I would like, but a good starter book to give me framework.
    If you need background, written in an enthusiastic manner, it is a good read.

    A lot of that stuff happened in the early 2000’s when I was preoccupied in geo-political conflicts in the middle east, and other personal matters. I missed so much of the begining.

  • Jeff Wright

    Red nail polish huh?
    I told Elon not to let Jamie Farr on the factory floor, but noo….

    No ‘tolerance’ for the trans community here

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 *