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.

The future of SLS?

In this long article describing the building the second core stage for NASA’s SLS rocket (the stage scheduled to take astronauts around the Moon in September 2023) was also additional information about the status of later core stages, still not entirely funded.

The key tidbit of information is this:

Core Stage-3 is the first build under the new “Stages Production and Evolution Contract” that was initiated in 2019; the contract is not yet completely finalized, with the latest estimate for definitization being early in Fiscal Year 2022 (which begins on October 1st, 2021).

Both NASA and Boeing are proceeding under the assumption that this Congress will approve full funding for later SLS rockets after flights one and two. While the signs strongly suggest that funding for at least two more rockets will arrive, that funding still depends largely on the success of the first unmanned SLS test flight, tentatively scheduled for November-December 2021.

It also depends on the political winds, and when Starship starts reaching orbit somewhat regularly (and cheaply). When that happens, all bets are off on the future of SLS. At some point it will become obvious that it can’t compete against that SpaceX rocket, and Congress will shift its funding appropriately.

Sadly, knowing Congress and the corrupt DC culture, this change will likely only happen after a lot of taxpayer money is wasted on a rocket that is simply too expensive and too cumbersome, and thus not practical for making space exploration possible.


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  • NavyNuke

    “Both NASA and Boeing are proceeding under the assumption that this Congress will approve full funding for several later SLS rockets.”

    And SpaceX is proceeding on the assuption that one or more governmental bodies will not force them to destroy the launch complex they are building.

    “It also depends on the political winds, and when Starship starts reaching orbit somewhat regularly (and cheaply). When that happens, all bets are off on the future of SLS.”

    Don’t you mean IF that is allowed to happen?

  • David Eastman

    From what gets reported in the press, congress seems to be of at least three minds, and it’s never clear which version is going to end up in the final bills until they get signed. There are several very vocal representatives that are very strongly in the “only government can do this” camp and want things done old school, fully guided and managed by NASA and done by the old school contractors (in their districts, natch). Then there are “why are we spending this money at all” representatives, and finally, and usually the ones who get final say, the “who cares what, how, or why, just spend money in my district” types.

    At this point, I expect the Artemis program as currently planned to roll forward on insufficient funding for years to come, sending huge gobs of taxpayer money to Alabama, Texas, Florida, and Washington, and just maybe putting some astronauts down on the moon and starting the lunar gateway before the end of the decade.

    I think it will take several years of SpaceX launching Starship/SuperHeavy, and, notably, actually starting to run missions that SLS and Vulcan can’t dream of, before things begin to change, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that change is in the direction of funding Blue Origin to be the government contactor version of the “rogue” SpaceX. I think ULA is doomed.

  • Spectrum Shift

    Whatever gave these billionaires the temerity to believe they could do it better than the Federal Government? Government always knows best what taxpayers NEED!

  • Mark

    I think David Eastman has a solid prediction that the Congress will push “funding Blue Origin to be the government contactor version of the “rogue” SpaceX “.
    Yeah, Bezos didn’t buy the Washington Post just as a lark.

  • Gary

    It never occurred to me that Galt’s Gulch might be Mars, but there’s no place left for it on Earth. It might just have to do.

  • Patrick Underwood

    Mark: extremely insightful comment.

  • Jeff Wright

    This is about keep an industrial base alive. I want hydrogen rockets for NTR. Bash Vulcan if you must.

  • Gary commented: “It never occurred to me that Galt’s Gulch might be Mars, but there’s no place left for it on Earth.”

    Well, dang, man, the vasty great majority of us are going to be here for the foreseeable future. I have confidence that Americans can make both the physical and figurative deserts bloom. We’ve done it before.

  • Questioner

    Perhaps Jeff Bezos should buy ULA at the right time and integrate in BO and hire Tory Bruno as CEO for BO? That would take Blue Origin’s space launcher building capabilities by leaps and bounds and bring it a ton of government contracts for satellite launches. Makes sense right?

  • Edward

    Jeff Wright,
    You wrote: “This is about keep an industrial base alive.

    Is this an industrial base that needs to be kept alive or is it like buggy whips? If this industrial base is obsolete this century but becomes necessary again in another century, then can’t we (or our progeny) rebuild it, like we would have to rebuild the buggy whip industry if it were to once again be needed?

    Keeping an obsolete industry alive can be so expensive, unnecessary, inefficient, and socialist.

  • pawn

    One of the many ironies of the SLS was that it was sold as being cheaper to reuse all the “good” technology from the STS program. So now the government has purchased a bunch of “cheap” throw-away engines for $100 million each. Of course to get this discount, NASA had to commit to six launches. This is all going on while SpaceX, who started out from essentially scratch, is running around selling orbital launches for $60 million each.

    The fact is that the US cannot afford NASA’s solution but NASA is part of the DC machine that is running this country into the ground.

  • Questioner


    You ask for a definition. The accompanying Wikipedia article is not bad, can be used for this purpose. I quote the most important excerpt here:

    “Right-wing politics supports the view that certain social orders and hierarchies are inevitable, natural, normal, or desirable, typically supporting this position on the basis of natural law, economics, or tradition. Hierarchy and inequality may be seen as natural results of traditional social differences or competition in market economies. The term right-wing can generally refer to “the conservative or reactionary section of a political party or system”.

    You can be viewed as a liberal in this context.

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