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 to live stream 50,000 foot hop of Starship

Capitalism in space: Elon Musk yesterday announced that SpaceX will publicly live stream the 50,000-foot hop of Starship prototype #8, expected sometime in the next two weeks. His tweet:

Sure, although it might be quite a short livestream! Lot can go wrong, but we’ll provide video, warts & all. You will see every frame that we do.

Up until now the public has had to depend on the independent live streams being put out by local residents still living in Boca Chica, Texas, which did not know SpaceX’s exact schedule. When SpaceX does it they will likely provide more specific launch times. They will also probably provide detailed accurate commentary.

Also, this update on the status of Starship development notes that the primary goal of that hop is testing the ability of the ship’s fins and systems to control the ship’s initial descent on its return to Earth, flying on its side like the Space Shuttle. If they have problems getting the ship upright for a vertical landing and it ends up in the ocean that will not surprise them. A successful vertical landing would be icing on the cake.


Please consider donating to Behind the Black, 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.

Regular readers can support 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


  • Mike Borgelt

    By now the SpaceX folks should know how to light a Raptor. Only question is the airflow around it but in “belly flop” position that should not be a problem.
    They also should know the moment of inertia of the Starship pretty well and the aerodynamics of flat plates in subsonic flow is also well understood so they should be able to estimate the pitch rate of the ship when the rear drag surfaces (dragerons?) fold. This should give them what they need for the control algorithms and they have proved they are good at that.
    DC-X did do the “swoop of death” successfully from nose down to tail down with no aero surfaces except the body shape and IIRC some small drag flaps around the base. First try IIRC.
    I’m fairly confident SN8 will be got back in one piece. I can’t see them casually throwing away 3 Raptors either so i think they are likely more confident than they are letting on.

  • sippin_bourbon

    I am really wanting to see this.

    They have pretty much said that if they can land it, that is a bonus, but I really hope they can pull it off.

  • Michael Mangold

    My first thought after reading this was that the EU, Russia and China could learn a lot from this level of transparency. My second thought was that NASA, Blue Origin and Virgin could, too.

  • Edward

    Mike Borgelt wrote: “i think they are likely more confident than they are letting on.

    If they weren’t confident, they wouldn’t do the test. It reminds me of their first attempt to land a Falcon 9 in the ocean (not the drone ship, the ocean). They had not anticipated that the rocket would spin. Their simulations predict success, but there may be software, aerodynamic, or hardware problems that they have not anticipated. We test, because we just don’t know. It is why new engines are tested (the recent problems with the Merlins should have been found on the test stand, not the launch pad).

  • Mike Borgelt

    Edward, I’m sure the SpaceX folk have learned a LOT since the first attempt to land a Falcon 9 in the ocean.
    Not to say that they haven’t missed something. After 42 years in designing and manufacturing electronics instruments for sailplanes and a few other things, I know about that.
    However DC-X did do the swoop of death first try. Surely that was documented and available to SpaceX.
    Thinking about it, I’d maybe try a bellyflop to tail down at 20,000 feet on the way down then go back to bellyflop. This could be used tocalibrate the algorithms which either ought to be adaptive or the fast computers on the ground do that and upload to the ship for the landing..

  • Edward

    Mike Borgelt,
    You wrote: “However DC-X did do the swoop of death first try. Surely that was documented and available to SpaceX.

    If it were the exact same design, then the answer would be right there. Starship is a different craft, involving different software, different aerodynamics, and different hardware, any one of which could turn out to be faulty. This is why they test on a suborbital flight, rather than wait for the first manned orbital flight.

    In addition to the possibility of spectacular failure is the possibility of subtle failures. The landing may go nicely, but on reviewing the data SpaceX may find details that did not perform quite as expected, details that deviate from expected normal. The Space Shuttle had two deviations from normalcy that we now know about, because those deviations eventually led to catastrophic failures, resulting in loss of crew and craft.

  • pawn

    Pedantic, I know but the two catastrophic failures referenced above were not of the Space Shuttle per se, but of the launch system. The shuttles were pretty tough old birds that did their jobs, too bad that Marshall didn’t do theirs.

    Best of luck to Spacex pulling off another fantastic job.

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 *