Conscious Choice cover

From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.


“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.


Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and 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.

Update on development status of ULA’s Vulcan rocket

Link here. Overall the rocket seems to be on track for its planned April 2021 launch, except it appears ULA has decided to do that launch without two new components of the rocket that previously were planned, delaying their implementation.

First, it appears that Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine might not power the rocket’s first stage in its initial flights. It seems that both companies want that engine to first fly on Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket, whose first launch is not set until 2021 as well.

This delay in the engine’s use has me wondering whether ULA has gotten cold feet about Blue Origin and its engine. It certainly seems to me that progress at Blue Origin has slowed considerably in the past year. For example, they promised manned flights of New Shepard that did not happen, and testing on the BE-4 seems to have gone underground.

In fact, the combination of increased hype and lack of progress has made Blue Origin and Jeff Bezos remind me increasingly of Virgin Galactic and Richard Branson, that team of endless unmet promises.

Second, it appears ULA has given the recovery and reuse of Vulcan’s first stage engines a very low priority. The technique they had chosen was to have the engines separate from the tanks and return to Earth by parafoil, protected by an inflatable heat shield. However,

A technology demonstration payload for the inflatable heat shield, which could also be used to deliver payloads to the surface of Mars, is slated to fly as a rideshare payload with NOAA’s JPSS-2 satellite aboard an Atlas V launch no earlier than 2022. [emphasis mine]

In other words, that reusable technology probably won’t be operational until well into the 2020s. Vulcan will likely be completely expendable for at least the first five years of its use.

ULA apparently has decided to take the safe technology route. Financially secure because of a $1 billion Air Force development contract to pay for Vulcan, combined with the military’s obvious desire to favor them in the awarding of future launch contracts, the company doesn’t have any incentive to innovate in any way to lower costs.


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.

Your support is even more essential to me because I keep this site free from advertisements and do not participate in corrupt social media companies like Google, Twitter, and Facebook. 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


  • Andy J

    I think you’ve misread the article, they are still using the BE-4 but it won’t have flown prior to Vulcan’s debut. (The main thrust of the article is how much of Vulcan has previously flown and how this reduces the risks)

  • Tom D

    After reading the article I agree with Andy J. Vulcan will debut with BE-4 motors. There really isn’t any reasonable alternative. I’m not sure how cost competitive Vulcan will be with SpaceX, but it does look like an improvement over the Atlas and Delta rockets.

  • I looked at the article again, and recognize that you both have a point. At the same time, my sense remains from the article that it seems ULA is leaving its options open concerning the BE-4.

    I have thus changed one word so that the first sentence in the second paragraph now reads: “it appears that Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine might not power the rocket’s first stage in its initial flights.”

    The change is to replace the word “will” with “might.”

    Blue Origin might be proceeding with the BE-4, but I have seen too many stories that make me worried about its development. Until I see some real action, such as some full duration engine tests I will remain skeptical.

  • Edward

    Robert wrote: “It certainly seems to me that progress at Blue Origin has slowed considerably in the past year. For example, they promised manned flights of New Shepard that did not happen, and testing on the BE-4 seems to have gone underground.

    Blue Origin reminds me a bit of a company working on a cost plus project. Since Bezos is willing to put up a billion dollars a year, there does not seem to be any hurry for completion. I like SpaceX’s rapid development philosophy much better, but that philosophy is necessary because there is not an endless supply of money available.

    Blue Origin may be falling into the same trap that American defense contractors fell into over the past half century or so. Because of an endless stream of money, getting product operational does not seem to be the highest priority. Virgin Galactic’s problem seems to be that they are married to an engine that does not give the necessary performance, but I don’t know what delays development at Blue Origin. It could be that they buckle to people who ask for more time, unlike SpaceX, which told its Starlink team to get their initial satellites on orbit sooner rather than later.

    I noticed that COTS and CRS produced rapid results, and CCDev moved along fairly quickly, too. The bulk of the revenues from these programs comes from the operational phase.

    Revenue is a powerful motivator. For some companies, revenue comes from an operational product; for others, it comes from a development program.

  • wodun

    Blue Origin may be falling into the same trap that American defense contractors fell into over the past half century or so.

    Trap or goal that they have been working toward?

  • David

    I understand your skepticism about the BE-4, but nothing in the linked article feeds it any way. All the article does is state that the BE-4 might have it’s first flight on Vulcan, rather than New Glenn. Nothing that I can see in the article, or even anywhere else, implies that ULA is working towards any kind of fallback. They have gone past the methalox/kerolox/hydrolox checkpoints and are building methalox rocket hardware and pad infrastructure, and there is no other methalox engine available to them.

    Blue Origin is very secretive in comparison to SpaceX, and I think some people are interpreting that lack of public knowledge to indicate that things aren’t happening. But even SpaceX manages to sneak things under the radar, witness the fact that they had a good chunk of a hopper built in Florida before anyone even knew they were going to do so. I think if Blue Origin was really slow-walking the BE-4 to a significant extent, we’d hear ULA screaming about it, because a delay in that engine is going to hurt them bad.

  • David: All you say is true. My instincts however are binging, and when they bing, I must write about it, because though they are not always right they are right far more times than they are wrong.

    Note the comparison I make between Branson and Bezos. Bezos used to never do hype. He’s been doing it more and more, not based on achievements (actual manned New Shepard flights) but mere concepts (his Blue Moon lunar lander). The similarity disturbs me.

    Until Blue Origin starts actual manned flights with New Shepard, the company has nothing real to its name, despite the hype.

  • Jollster

    Does anyone else get an “SLS” vibe from Blue Origin? They seem to be in consideration for contracts, but have produced nothing but an engine on a test stand. I agree with the Z Man; Blue need to produce something…. anything, apart from press releases.

  • Edward

    wodun asked: “Trap or goal that they have been working toward?

    I think it is a trap. Bezos seems to be interested more in improving the way of doing things rather than joining the heritage aerospace companies as merely a competitor. This is why he worked so hard on a reusable rocket for orbital launch.

    He seems to be one of the ones who got tired of waiting for NASA to meet the expectations that we all have had for the past half century. In the 1990s, several people started trying a different way of accessing space in hopes that reduced launch costs would create a larger space economy to start meeting our expectations. Rather than be disappointed in an under-performing Space Shuttle and wait for an overly-expensive space station that was constantly ten years away, several individuals and some companies tried a new commercial approach.

    McDonnell Douglas and Lockheed Martin thought that a reusable single stage to orbit rocket was the solution to launch costs. Others, such as Orbital Sciences (and even Lockheed Martin), thought that low-cost through small satellites was about to be a wave of the future (their timing was off by a quarter century). Most believed that reusability was the key, just like airliners are reused and not thrown away after each flight. Peter Diamandis created the X-Prize despite no one knowing how to fulfill the requirements and not having the promised prize. Kistler and Armadillo are two companies that tried unsuccessfully to solve the cost problem. Around the turn of the century, Bezos and Musk created companies that were more successful, and Bigelow is bringing inexpensive expandable space modules to market in order to reduce the cost of manned operations on orbit.

    This is why I think that Bezos intends his company to be more innovative than aerospace has been over the past half century.

    I would say much better things about Blue Origin and Bezos if they were flying people, as intended, but they are still only flying experiments as revenue customers, and not very often. The BE-3 engine flies successfully, and they reuse their hardware, so they have much more than just press releases under their belt. What they lack, so far, is carrying out their manned missions within the stated timeline, a timeline that does not seem unreasonable.

    Schedules tend to be optimistic, based largely upon what someone thinks can happen if all goes right, often with a little room for problem solving between tests. Sometimes the problems are larger than expected, and schedules slip, but most of the time problems don’t stop the whole show (Virgin Galactic seems to be an exception). What has me most curious are the problems that Blue Origin is encountering to delay its manned flights so long. Because they are secretive, it is difficult to imagine what these problems are.

    I don’t mind Blue Origin being secretive, but I do want to see more rapid development of their projects.

    I certainly hope that ULA also is successful with their Vulcan rocket and ACES upper stage. I think ACES has an especially useful role in the future.

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 *