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.

Webb successfully launched

Early this morning an Ariane 5 rocket successfully launched the James Webb Space Telescope from French Guiana.

The key moment that indicated the launch was success was, after Webb was deployed from the rocket’s upper stage, its solar panels deployed and the telescope began receiving power from them.

The launch itself was something that has been done by the Ariane 5 rocket many many times, without failure. Now comes the part of this operation that has never been done before.

Now “30 days of terror” begin, as JWST starts its career in space. First, it will take the space telescope 30 days to reach the start of its halo orbit at L2. On its way, the telescope must unfurl its 18 gold-plated beryllium mirror segments using 132 actuators. It will also have to deploy its five-layer, origami sunshield and cool down to below 50K (-223°C or -370°F) to begin the start of science operations in 2022.

NASA has a webpage that shows the step-by-step deployment, and allows you to see the status at any time during the next 30 days.

After almost twenty years of development and a budget that went 20x over its original estimate, let’s us all hope that Webb deploys properly and begins collecting data as intended. If it does, it will allow astronomers to make ground-breaking discoveries, and we shall gain a better idea of what lies hidden behind that black sky that surrounds us.

As for the 2021 launch race, this is the updated leader board:

49 China
31 SpaceX
22 Russia
7 Europe (Arianespace)

China will likely be the winner in the national rankings, 49 to 48 over the U.S. This was the 130th successful launch in 2021, only the second time in the history of space exploration that the world reached that number of launches in a single year.


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  • Andi

    Watching the live feed, when the JWST separated from the upper stage, we could see the telescope moving off in the distance, indicating that there was a camera on the upper stage. The narrator stated that this would be the last image that could be taken of the telescope.

    Surprised that they didn’t mount cameras on the telescope itself, especially in light of all the mechanical Rube Goldberging that it will have to undergo during that “30 days of terror”. Seems to me that cameras would be useful in case of any mechanical problems.

  • Questioner

    How Does The James Webb Space Telescope Work? – Smarter Every Day 262

  • John

    Rube Goldberge in Spaaaaaace!

  • Richard M

    Surprised that they didn’t mount cameras on the telescope itself, especially in light of all the mechanical Rube Goldberging that it will have to undergo during that “30 days of terror”. Seems to me that cameras would be useful in case of any mechanical problems.

    Former NASA science division chief John Grunsfeld just gave an interview talking about this – how he lobbied to put engineering cameras (and a grapple fixture) on JWST, but failed to persuade Webb project leaders, who were worried about the mass and the camera battery heat. “I got enormous pushback.”

    This 2 minute clip hits the highlights of the camera battle:

  • Localfluff

    It’s a good sign that they are that confident! They know how to do this stuff. The launch was the dangerous part. They said on a NASA press conference today that 80% of spacecrafts that fail do so during launch. The film of the solar panel unfolding was BEAUTIFUL!

    Historic discoveries and great surprises are guaranteed starting in the spring. This thing will be a Nobel Prize generator. Here are approved science observations:
    I’m surprised that it will do such a wide range of Solar system observations too.

    And it will look for 100 hours at an Earth sized exoplanet in the Trappist system. If it has oxygen and methane it will see that, and the only imaginable way for an atmosphere to be replenish with these two reactive gasses (the combination is so explosive that it is used as rocket fuel), is biological.

    Astronomy has made FANTASTIC OUTSTANDING progress in a short time. It was as late as 1929 that intergalactic space was discovered by Edvin Hubble, before that spiral “nebula” were thought to be solar systems forming in the Milky Way. Soon they will observe the first light there ever was.

  • Questioner

    However, even telescopes – like the Webb Space Telescope – are still “light years” away from actually taking pictures of the surface of an extrasolar planet (say a 1000×1000 pixels resolution picture). For that we would need a 90,000 km diameter telescope today!!! So completely impossible with today’s technology. But there is a way: we use the sun as a gravitational lens and position a swarm of small telescopes at a distance of 600 AU from the sun! This mission would make Webb telescope look like an ancient device.

    The Solar Gravitational Lens will Map Exoplanets.

  • Questioner

    Solar Gravity Lens Telescope Concept Presentation – Salva Turyshev

  • George C

    The flight director would say in French that things were normal, which is a cognizant. And the French speaking announcer would translate that using words along the lines of acting exactly according to specifications. I rember as a child, when James Webb himself was in charge, hearing the phrase all systems normal. So who was responsible for the use of the word nominal? It is a term of art, not good English, because not even the first three definitions as an English word are anywhere near the meaning of all systems normal.

  • Jeff Wright

    The skycrane concept is what scared me most. It doesn’t take much “muscle” to deploy gently out in the deep…

  • Richard M

    The launch was the dangerous part. They said on a NASA press conference today that 80% of spacecrafts that fail do so during launch.

    That is true. Alas, however, JWST is not like most launches in terms of risk retirement, because its deployment is so complex. I read somewhere that NASA spent half a billion dollars just to figure out the mechanics of petal deployment for Webb. Tom Zerbuchen put it this way at the press conference today: “Generally speaking, the launch is of the order of 80% of the risk in a mission. I would say that, by our analysis, by various ways of assessing that, here it may be 20% or the risk, perhaps 30%. We have retired quite some risk, but what is ahead remains is risk that we’re going to take down step by step.”

    So the astronomers are going to remain pretty antsy for at least another month.

  • Edward

    Richard M,
    So the astronomers are going to remain pretty antsy for at least another month.

    You are correct. This is a spacecraft that does not have the mature technologies that most others do, so the comparison with other spacecraft launches was more like comparing apples to tomatoes — they may look similar but they aren’t. The lack of technical maturity is why they are calling it the month-of-terror rather than the eight-minutes-of-terror. The launch was not the most dangerous part. In fact, the launch vehicle has a good record.

    The lack of mature technologies is one of the reasons that Webb had such a wildly slipped schedule and such horrendous cost overruns. It is too bad that they did not wait to start the Webb telescope design until after working out these risks and proving or improving the technology as secondary tests on other missions where failure of the tech would not have caused losses to those missions. The choice to go with such technology risks and the resulting $9 billion or so overrun has cost us lost opportunities for other space based telescopes and other astronomy research. What a waste it all would be if these deployments fail and Webb cannot perform its mission.

    The main reason that the launch was such a big deal is that it sets off the events that follow for the next month. It starts the month of terror. Up to now, it was just worry, but now the reality is setting in, and the clock is ticking. Up to now, someone could have said, “Oh, wait. If we put in self sealing stem bolts then the deployments are guaranteed to go well.”

    Now it is too late. The dice are cast (Iacta alea est). Do they come up seven or do they come up snake eyes? The next few days will tell.

  • Edward: Even in the Latin, it is “The die are cast”.

    Yes, I will be ‘That Guy’.

  • Localfluff

    @Questioner True, JWST will be able to resolve an Earth sized nearby exoplanet as a single dot. But that is better than a transit where the reflected star light of the planet is mixed with the light from the star into a light curve. ALMA has already resolved several exoplanets, gas giants in distant orbits from their star, but only in radio. And I think only forming hot planets that emit in radio. IR will make new spectral analysis of the atmosphere (or the surface) possible. Still, it requires 100 JWST hours of exposure, more than a deep field image.

    The Solar gravity lens telescope will also only see in radio. I don’t know if for example Earth’s continents can be distinguished from the oceans in radio. And it is distorted by the corona so that in practice it might need a distance of 1000 AU. The idea is to make it a fast spacecraft and let it continue away. The radio frequency magnified (fantastically much) will change with the distance giving more information. A weakness is that it can only ever be pointed towards one single target.

  • mpthompson

    Biting our nails that the JWST deploys successfully is why the launch capability of the Starship is needed so badly. With the Starship mass and size constraints, an equivalent telescope could be deployed in its full configuration without nearly the same mass considerations. The reusable aspect of Starship means the upper stage could have been refueled and placed the entire telescope into its distant orbit with plenty of precautions to ensure successful deployment, including the possibility of a future Starship launch servicing the telescope if something were to go wrong.

    Yesterday, listening to a video by Scott Manley, I was surprised that the JWST only has about half the mass of the Hubble space telescope. How much time and money could have been saved during development if the JWST could have had four times the mass of Hubble?

  • Ray Van Dune

    mpthompson, I have been thinking similar thoughts, and I predict the StarShip will also have a salutary effect on the utilization of humans and human-like robots in space exploration. Imagine astronauts and their robot helpers accompanying a large observatory to a distant station, for the purpose of commissioning it, and then giving it a trial run for weeks or months!

    And being able to come back to repair or enhance the instruments. Of course with a robot stay-behind crew to take care of day-to-day contingencies, the whole concept of the design of space/based instruments could radically change!

  • Gary

    mpthompson and Ray, at the risk of maybe violating a re-posting rule, this is something I saw where the writer posits similar thoughts.

  • Edward

    Blair Ivey,
    You wrote: “Yes, I will be ‘That Guy’.

    That’s OK. Sometimes I choose to be “That Guy,” too. (I thought the more likely topic of replies would be the self sealing stem bolts.)

    mpthompson wrote: “With the Starship mass and size constraints, an equivalent telescope could be deployed in its full configuration without nearly the same mass considerations.

    Scientists are beginning to realize this same thing. I have been thinking that the 2020s will be exciting, but the 2030s could be even more so.

    Losing the Saturn V also lost us a similar capability. However, one of the important factors with Starship is its price. Saturn and SLS cost too much to do as much in space, but the lower price tag to orbit that is expected with Starship should open up space in ways we only dream about today. As other companies improve on Starship (there is plenty of room for improvement), then even more should become open to us.

  • Gary


    Thanks for finding that Bob posting. I knew I had seen it, but could get it to come up for me in the search function. That’s why i posted the other link. I agree with your assessment. I look forward to Starship delivering copters and rovers large number enough to cover thousands of miles of exploration (while carrying humans) on bodies throughout the solar system.

  • wayne

    so…for what exactly, are these utilized?

    DS-9 “Treachery, Faith, and the Great River”
    “Self Sealing Stembolts”

  • Localfluff

    NASA has a very elaborate website for the public about the deployment stages. I wonder why?
    Day +3: Deployment of the Sunshield “pallet” begins. The sunshield ripped apart in a test almost 4 years ago. So OF COURSE they have fixed that. That won’t go wrong again.

    It isn’t all that hard! (oh well, it is hard, but it is routine). Every satellite folds out its Solar panels and antennas and what not with several single points of failure for each of those maneuvers. And you can read on this blog how many satellites are launched each year. 300 single points of failure is not a big number considering how very few satellites fail after launch. It’s not as if it has to land through the atmosphere of Mars and be carefully put down on the ground with a Sky Crane. What remains for JWST is easier than that which has been done perfectly twice out of two.

    Spacecrafts are killed in atmospheres, rarely otherwise. This baby will go to where it belongs and do what it is supposed to do:
    Confuse all astronomers!

  • Edward

    wayne asked: “so…for what exactly, are [self sealing stem bolts] utilized?

    Like unobtanium, they have a multitude of uses, usually in unusual or unexpected circumstances. When the sunshield failed during a deployment test, I might have recommended them as a fix, or I might have recommended a change of material to unobtainium, or perhaps turning up the test to 11. On occasion, I have also recommended using a bigger hammer, cranking up the voltage, and adding an unending recursive function.

    I once made a spectrographic camera with both a prism and a grating. This one is true. The prism alone had spread the light at an angle, so that the front lens didn’t point where the camera was aimed. The grating corrected this angle back to the original direction of the lens, making the use more straight forward and ordinary.

  • wayne


    Ever work with Adamantium or Unobtainium?

  • Edward

    wayne asked: “Ever work with Adamantium or Unobtainium?

    I once found a source for unobtainium, but they were out of stock. The closest to working with adamantium was when I once said, “Up and at ’em, Atom Ant!”

  • wayne

    You, are the Man!

    “(attempted) Crushing Adamantium with Hydraulic Press”
    –> some adult expletives, <–

  • wayne

    “We’re Doing It LIVE!”
    Bill O’Reilly loses it
    Inside Edition outro

    -numerous expletives-

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