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My February birthday fund-raising campaign for Behind the Black it now over. I sincerely and with deep gratitude thank all those who donated. Without your support I could not keep doing this, not so much because of the need for income to pay the bills, but because it tells me that there are people out there who want me to do this work. For those who did not contribute during the campaign, please consider adding your vote of support to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, in any one of the following ways:


1. Zelle: This is the only internet method that charges no fees. All you have to do is use the Zelle link at your internet bank and give my name and email address (zimmerman at nasw dot org). What you donate is what I get.


2. Donate through Gabpay, using my email address zimmerman @ nasw dot org.

3. Patreon: Go to my website there and pick one of five monthly subscription amounts, or by making a one-time donation.

4. A Paypal Donation:

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5. Donate by check, payable to Robert Zimmerman and mailed to
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Webb instrument back in operation

Engineers have returned NIRISS, the near infrared spectrograph instrument on the Webb Space Telescope, to full operation after rebooting its software and determining the cause of the problem.

On Jan. 15, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope’s Near Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS) experienced a communications delay within the science instrument, causing its flight software to time out. Following a full investigation by NASA and Canadian Space Agency (CSA) teams, the cause was determined to likely be a galactic cosmic ray, a form of high-energy radiation from outside our solar system that can sometimes disrupt electrical systems. Encountering cosmic rays is a normal and expected part of operating any spacecraft. This cosmic ray event affected logic in the solid-state circuitry of NIRISS electronics known as the Field Programmable Gate Array. Webb engineers determined that rebooting the instrument would bring it back to full functionality.

After completing the reboot, NIRISS telemetry data demonstrated normal timing, and to fully confirm, the team scheduled a test observation. On Jan. 28, the Webb team sent commands to the instrument to perform the observation, and the results confirmed on Jan. 30 NIRISS is back to full scientific operations.

Engineers actually have a name for such cosmic ray incidents that effect software. They call it a bitflip.

Conscious Choice cover

Now available in hardback and paperback as well as ebook!


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.


All editions are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all book vendors, with the ebook priced at $5.99 before discount. The ebook can also be purchased direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit, in which case you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


Autographed printed copies are also available at discount directly from me (hardback $24.95; paperback $14.95; Shipping cost for either: $5.00). Just email me at zimmerman @ nasw dot org.


  • David Ross

    *affect. “Effect” means to create the software.
    I mean, I’ve been enjoying the “Three Body Problem” show from Tencent too, but . . .

  • Edward

    Paul Schillito, of Curious Droid, did a video a couple of years ago on sending data back from deep space probes. Although he doesn’t get into the interesting parts, such as signal processing (both onboard and on the ground), data handling, and data compression or handling bit flips, data dropouts, or interruption events, it is a good primer on data gathering methods and why the instruments are not necessarily the state of the art. (15 minutes)

    Troubleshooting problems is thought out extensively during the design phase, and when there are problems, a fix is not assumed (just reboot and see if that clears it up) but are carefully analyzed to make sure that the “solution” will not make matters worse.

    Unfortunately, not all planning and design works out as intended:

    From the linked article in the above BTB link:

    “The trouble is they don’t actually send back the spectra. What they send back is the two numbers – the sum of the fingers measured by the first channel and the sum of gaps measured by the second channel – and then they take a difference of those two numbers and they think that that’s going to be the methane signal,” Mumma said.

    “The problem, of course, is that when you have other spectral lines … like carbon dioxide lines which vary widely with temperature in terms of their intensity, then those two numbers … don’t represent methane alone. The net effect is that there is no way that one can back out those two signals in order to retrieve a methane signal,” he said.

    “It’s really unfortunate because they succeeded so spectacularly well in placing the spacecraft into orbit at all, which was the major achievement for the first try,” he added. “But the reality is we won’t seeing any detections of methane from the Mars methane sensor on MOM.”

    [ellipses in original]

    As Robert wrote in his post: “They are re-purposing the instrument to measure the reflected sunlight coming off the Martian surface

    However, India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) probe did some good work: but ran out of attitude control propellants last year and its mission has ended.

    The Webb telescope is returning excellent data that has shaken up the astronomical community with a new controversy:

    The James Webb Space Telescope, not even finished with its first full year of observations, has delivered some real stunners. But amid the breathtaking images and unprecedented findings, there was a puzzling claim: that the telescope had detected galaxies in the incredibly young universe. Those galaxies were so massive and appeared so early that they, the headlines claimed, “broke” the Big Bang model of cosmology.

    The claim went viral, but as with many things on the internet, it’s simply not true.

    Now, there’s more research to back up the Big Bang. Recently, researchers took a more careful look at the data and determined that the distant galaxies discovered by the James Webb Space Telescope are, indeed, perfectly compatible with our modern understanding of cosmology.

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