The final week of my annual February birthday month fund-raising campaign for Behind the Black has begun. I continue to be overwhelmed by the outpouring of support, including numerous donations and a surge of new subscribers willing to commit to donating anywhere from $2 to $25 per month. Wow! The numbers are too many to send out individual thank you’s, so please forgive me for thanking you all with this one announcement.


The campaign however must go on, especially because I have added more regular features to my daily workload. In addition to my daily never-ending reporting on space exploration and science, my regular launch reports, my monthly sunspot updates, the regular cool images, and the evening pauses I post each evening, I have now added a daily weekday post I have entitled "Today's blacklisted American." Its goal is not to discuss policy or politics, but to note the endless examples occurring across the United States where some jack-booted thug or thugs think it is proper and acceptable to censor, blackball, cancel, and destroy an innocent American, merely because that American has expressed or holds an opinion or is of a race or religion that is no longer considered acceptable to the dominant leftist and bigoted culture. I want to make clear to every American that a large number of your fellow citizens no longer believe in the enlightened concept of freedom of speech or the idea of treating each person by the quality of their character.


Instead, they wish to shut you up, and oppress you if you happen to disagree with them or have the wrong skin color. This evil must be exposed.


To continue to do this into the foreseeable future however I need your support. If you are one of those millions who read Behind the Black each month, please consider donating or subscribing. Regular readers can support Behind The Black with a contribution via paypal:

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


If Paypal doesn'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

The effect of weightlessness on the spine

New observations of astronauts before and after four to seven month long missions to ISS has found the back pain many astronauts experience appears to be caused by significant muscle atrophy.

The MRI scans indicated significant atrophy of the paraspinal lean muscle mass —which plays a critical role in spinal support and movement—during the astronauts’ time in space. The lean muscle, or “functional,” cross-sectional area of the lumbar paraspinal muscles decreased by an average of 19 percent from preflight to immediate postflight scans. A month or two later, only about two-thirds of the reduction had recovered. There was an even more dramatic reduction in the functional cross-sectional area of the paraspinal muscles relative to total paraspinal cross-sectional area. The ratio of lean muscle decreased from 86 percent preflight to 72 percent immediately postflight. At follow-up, the ratio recovered to 81 percent, but was still less than the preflight value.

In contrast, there was no consistent change in the height of the spinal intervertebral discs. Dr. Chang and coauthors write, “These measurements run counter to previous hypotheses about the effects of microgravity on disc swelling.” Further studies will be needed to clarify the effects on disc height, and whether they contribute to the increase in body height during space missions, and to the increased risk of herniated disc disease.

These results are very encouraging, because they indicate that the back problems seen are mostly attributable to weakened muscles, not actual spinal damage, and can therefore be more easily mitigated by new exercises while in orbit.

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.


  • BSJ

    I had to deal with atrophy of my Infra & Supraspinatus muscles on my left shoulder blade because of pinched nerves in my neck. MAN O’ MAN talk about painful! There is also peculiar feeling of the muscle actually rotting away that goes along with it…

    It got to the point to where I had near zero strength in those muscles before I got decompression surgery to relive the pressure on the nerves. I have most of the strength back, but they said the best I could hope for is about 80% return. Strength and mass.

    I could see Astronauts ending up where they never returned to their full strength as well. No matter how much they exercised in space.

  • Gealon

    There’s a sure fire way to fix this problem without having to resort to time-consuming exercise regimes and vitamin cocktails. Get there faster.

    All of this research into how the body reacts to weightlessness is just a stop gap measure because we refuse to invest in the technologies that would render it obsolete. If we had properly embraced NTR technology in the 60’s and 70’s, we wouldn’t be talking about multi year trips in weightlessness to get to Mars and back, it would be weeks to months.

    And right along with Get there faster is Get there better. When will there ever be a serious effort into building a spacecraft that rotates? Short of aliens dropping by and giving us artificial gravity and FTL technologies, this is going to be the only way to get around for a while so what really is the holdup? I’ll answer that myself. The combination of a rotating spacecraft and NTR propulsion would make space travel both faster and less demanding on the human body, but there would be room for pork like the ISS. Yes it is supposed to be a prototype interplanetary spacecraft, but that’s not what it is. What it is is a political tool through which money is funneled and politicians can pat each other on the back and say “Look how cooperative we all are with our international partners.” Meanwhile humanity is still stuck on Earth.

    Apologies if this wandered into ranting territory. I’m just annoyed how biology and pork always gets the front seats when existing and existing technology would solve the problems they are still failing to address.

  • wodun

    A rotating space station would need to allow for walking and not the rotating bed theory that some have proposed. Bed rest in artificial gravity wouldn’t solve this spinal muscle atrophy problem.

    Getting there faster could help but you also need to slow down.

  • Edward

    wodun wrote: “Getting there faster could help but you also need to slow down.

    If the destination planet (or moon) has an atmosphere, aerobraking could reduce the amount of fuel needed to get into orbit. However, this also requires a more streamlined spacecraft; be careful of those solar arrays and antennas. A heavy manned craft may not slow very much in the curvature of Mars’s thin atmosphere.

  • Dave Williams

    Gene manipulation may provide an answer, at least in part.

  • Localfluff

    A centrifuge must be used standing up vertically, I cannot imagine anything else. Sleeping horizontally in a centrifuge might maybe help the body normalize internal fluid pressures, but I don’t see how that could help the spine muscles from deteriorating. So an efficient neutralization of this problem requires a very large spaceship, larger than what Elon Musk suggest, spinning while people walk and work in them.

    Luckily, Mars is close enough that human trips there don’t need any yet unproven microgravity mitigation measures. Gravity is actually the back worst enemy! How many thousands of backs doesn’t gravity break every day? In the future spending time in microgravity might be prescribed to back injured patients.

    Microgravity isn’t more dangerous than 1g. It is just different.

  • Tom Billings

    BSJ said:

    “I could see Astronauts ending up where they never returned to their full strength as well. No matter how much they exercised in space.”

    This may soon be a past problem. Atrophy of the muscles is caused mostly by the evolutionary trick of the body reducing muscle mass when it is not needed, to compensate for famine, by dropping the amount of calorie consuming muscle cells. Famine was a common enough occurrence for most populations before the industrial revolution began.

    What triggers muscle atrophy is the myostatin pathway. There is belief that an anti-myostatin vaccine will be allowed into human testing within 12 months. If it works as well in humans as in test animals, then it may become a norm for spaceflight that you get your myostatin shot before leaving.

    Note that this will only affect muscle mass, and *not* bone mass. Indeed, even though exercise helps calcium phosphate deposition in the large bones, there are the ossicles of the middle ear. Whether they are threatened by freefall is still being worked out.

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 *