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.

Russians set December 8th for launch of next ISS tourist flight

Capitalism in space: Roscosmos today announced that the next tourist flight to ISS of two Japanese tourists will launch on December 8th.

“According to the Russian plan of ISS flight, the Soyuz-2.1A rocket carrying the Soyuz MS-20 transport spaceship with the 20th visiting ISS expedition on board is scheduled to lift off from the Baikonur cosmodrome at 10:38 am Moscow time [07:38 GMT] on December 8, 2021,” the agency said.

The crew will include Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin and two Japanese space tourists – billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and his assistant Yozo Hirano

Maezawa is also the man who has signed a deal with SpaceX to fly to the Moon on Starship, once that spacecraft is finished.

Chicken Little update! A new COVID variant!

The announcement by a South African doctor yesterday of several “mild” cases of a new variant of COVID-19 has sent governments throughout the worldwide scrambling in utter panic. Israel has shut itself down again. Joe Biden banned all traffic from most African countries.

From the doctor’s report:

On Nov. 18, four family members all tested positive for COVID with complete exhaustion and Coetzee said she reported the findings to South Africa’s vaccine advisory committee. She said about two dozen of her patients have now tested positive for COVID with symptoms of the new variant — mostly healthy men who turned up “feeling so tired,” the Telegraph reported. About half were unvaccinated.

“We had one very interesting case, a kid, about six years old, with a temperature and a very high pulse rate, and I wondered if I should admit her,” she told the news outlet. “But when I followed up two days later, she was so much better.” Coetzee said she was worried the new variant could still hit much harder in older people with co-morbidities like diabetes or heart disease.

And of course, death-head Anthony Fauci immediately declared the U.S. should “be prepared to do anything and everything” to stop it, even though at this point it has not even entered the U.S. and once again, its effects appear “mild.”

The first four cases in Botswana were all vaccinated, so once again the vaccines are proving ineffective in stopping COVID.

Let’s get real. What all of these stories focus on is the sudden rise in cases, as if that represents bodies lying in the street. NOT. As has been the case from day one, 99% of everyone that gets COVID survives it. Period. I expect based on the mildness reported for this variant things will be no different.

COVID is a respiratory illness like the flu. It might be worse than past versions, but it still is the same. The human race cannot vaccinate itself out of this problem. From the beginning the only solution was to allow the younger healthy population get it, obtain natural immunity, and thus choke the virus out.

We did not let that happen and are paying for it now. Still, we can finally come to our senses and let this play out, protecting the vulnerable populations (the elderly, the chronically sick, etc) while letting this new probably relatively less potent variant quickly spread.

More and endless booster shots are not going to accomplish anything.

Regular readers can support Behind The Black with a contribution via Paypal or Patreon. To use Patreon, go to my website there and pick one of five monthly subscription amounts, or by making a one-time donation. Or you subscribe or donate using PayPal as follows:


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


If neither Paypal nor Patreont work for you, you can support Behind The Black 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
Or you can donate by using Zelle through your bank. You will need to give my name and email address (found at the bottom of the "About" page). The best part of this electronic option is that no fees will be deducted! What you donate will be what I receive.

The NYTimes does real journalism!

In what might be the most astonishing report from the New York Times earlier this month, one of its reporters decided to take a look at the governance in those states where the Democrats essentially rule with no Republican opposition, and asked this very pointed question: “What do Democrats really do when they have all the power?”

The result is the video below. Watch it. You will be entertained at how the great and all-powerful New York Times suddenly discovers some obvious news.

Leaving Earth cover

There are now only 6 copies left of the now out-of-print hardback of Leaving Earth. After I sell one more, I will be raising the price substantially. Thus, if you want to get an autographed copy of this rare collector's item for only $100, plus $5 shipping, now is the time to buy. Once I sell one more book and only have five copies left, the price goes up to $150 (plus shipping for the next two.


To get your copy while the getting is good, please send a $105 check (which includes $5 shipping) payable to Robert Zimmerman to

Behind The Black, c/o Robert Zimmerman
P.O.Box 1262
Cortaro, AZ 85652


Leaving Earth is also available as an inexpensive ebook!


Leaving Earth: Space Stations, Rival Superpowers, and the Quest for Interplanetary Travel, can be purchased as an ebook everywhere for only $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit.


If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big oppressive tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


Winner of the 2003 Eugene M. Emme Award of the American Astronautical Society.

"Leaving Earth is one of the best and certainly the most comprehensive summary of our drive into space that I have ever read. It will be invaluable to future scholars because it will tell them how the next chapter of human history opened." -- Arthur C. Clarke

Nice overview of space tourism options

Link here. The author does an excellent job outlining in detail the pros and cons of each space tourism option, from Virgin Galactic (“joy ride”) to Axiom’s orbital station trips (“Five stars!”)

She misses a few however, such as the recent announcement by the balloon company Worldview that it plans near space tourists flights in competition with Space Perspectives, and for a much smaller ticket price. There are also two Spanish balloon companies gearing up to capture this end of the space tourist business.

Regardless, if you’ve got some spare cash and want to spend it in an adventurous way, here is a guide for doing so.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit. If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.

The audiobook is also available at all these vendors, and is also free with a 30-day trial membership to Audible.

"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs."--San Antonio Express-News

Engineers: Webb undamaged by “incident”, ready for December 22nd launch

Arianespace engineers have confirmed after testing that the James Webb Space Telescope was undamaged by “incident” that occurred during stacking, and have okayed the resumption of the telescope’s preparation for launch.

On Wednesday, Nov. 24, engineering teams completed these tests, and a NASA-led anomaly review board concluded no observatory components were damaged in the incident. A “consent to fuel” review was held, and NASA gave approval to begin fueling the observatory. Fueling operations will begin Thursday, Nov. 25, and will take about 10 days.

The launch is now set for December 22nd.

China’s Kuaizhou-1A rocket launches classified government satellite

Late yesterday China’s Kuaizhou-1A rocket successfully launched classified government satellite into orbit.

The Kuaizhou rocket is supposedly operated by the pseudo private company Expace, but nothing it does happens without the approval of the Chinese government.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

44 China
26 SpaceX
20 Russia
5 Europe (Arianespace)

China now leads the U.S. 44 to 41 in the national rankings.

Ingenuity completes 16th Mars flight

According to a tweet by the Ingenuity team, the Mars helicopter successfully completed its 16th flight on Mars on November 21st.

“#MarsHelicopter continues to thrive!” mission personnel wrote in a tweet posted Monday (Nov. 22). “The mighty rotorcraft completed its 16th flight on the Red Planet last weekend, traveling 116 meters northeast for 109 seconds. It captured color images during the short hop, but those will come down in a later downlink.”

No images have as yet been downloaded from the flight.

Rocket Lab to attempt 1st stage recovery by helicopter, beginning early next year

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab announced today that based on the data obtained during its previous launch in November, the company will attempt a helicopter recovery in the air of its Electron rocket’s first stage, starting with its first launches in 2022.

With the success of this latest mission, Rocket Lab will now move to aerial capture attempts with a helicopter for future recovery missions in the first half of 2022. Rocket Lab’s recovery helicopter will include auxiliary fuel tanks for extended flight time during the capture attempt. While Rocket Lab’s engineers and recovery vessel will also be stationed at sea, Rocket Lab’s primary objective will be to return Electron’s booster to the mainland while attached to the helicopter. Improvements to the launch vehicle for this next recovery attempt will include a thermal protection system applied to the entire stage and its nine Rutherford engines to help it endure heat of up to 2,400 degrees Celsius during re-entry, and modifications to the parachute system including an engagement line for the recovery helicopter to capture and secure the booster.

The company has a launch scheduled for the end of November, but apparently it is not going to attempt a first stage recovery by helicopter during that mission.

If successful, Rocket Lab will have become the second company able to reuse its first stage, and thus cut the price it charges for launches significantly.

Russia successfully launches Progress with new docking hub for ISS

Russia today successfully launched a new Progress freighter carrying Prichal, a new docking hub for the Russian half of ISS.

If all goes as planned, Prichal will dock to Nauka in two days.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

43 China
26 SpaceX
19 Russia
5 Europe (Arianespace)

China still leads the U.S. 43 to 41 in the national rankings. This launch was the 111th successful launch in 2021, which tied the number from 2018 that had been the highest since the 1990s.

SpaceX successfully launches NASA asteroid mission

Last night SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket successfully launched NASA’s DART asteroid mission.

The first stage landed successfully, completing its third flight. This was SpaceX’s 26th launch in 2021, setting a new record for the company and in fact for any private company ever.

DART’s mission is to test one method for changing an asteroid’s orbit.

After launch tonight, DART will take aim on an asteroid called Dimorphos. The spacecraft will strike Dimorphos at nearly 15,000 mph (about 6.6 kilometers per second).

The primary science goal of the mission is to measure how the high-speed collision next September, which will destroy the DART spacecraft, disrupts the orbit of Dimorphos around nearby Didymos. The data could help plan a future mission to deflect an asteroid on a course to hit Earth.

Dimorphos and its larger companion Didymos pose no near-term threat to Earth, but the asteroids will be close enough to our planet next year for astronomers to observe DART’s impact using ground-based telescopes. The asteroids orbit the sun in an elongated path that occasionally bring them into Earth’s neighborhood. That makes them potentially hazardous asteroids, although scientists say there is no near-term threat from the pair.

No space mission has ever explored Didymos and Dimorphos, but scientists who have observed them through telescopes say the asteroids are about a half-mile (780 meters) and 525 feet (160 meters) in diameter, respectively.

An Italian cubesat is also on board, and will separate from DART about ten days before impact so that it can observe the impact with two camera.

The leaders in 2021 launch race:

43 China
26 SpaceX
18 Russia
5 Europe (Arianespace)

China now leads the U.S. 43 to 41 in the national rankings. For the U.S. SpaceX’s launch last night topped the U.S. total from last year, which was this country’s highest launch total since the 1960s.

Second camera on Hubble returned to science operations

Engineers working to reactivate the instruments on the Hubble Space Telescope have successfully brought a second camera out of safe mode.

NASA continues bringing the Hubble Space Telescope back to normal science operations, most recently recovering the Wide Field Camera 3 instrument Sunday, Nov. 21. This camera will be the second of Hubble’s instruments, after the Advanced Camera for Surveys, to resume science after suspending the spacecraft’s observations Oct. 25. The Wide Field Camera 3’s first science observation since the anomaly will be Nov. 23.

The team chose to restore the most heavily used Hubble instrument, the Wide Field Camera 3, which represents more than a third of the spacecraft’s observing time. Engineers also began preparing changes to the instrument parameters, while testing the changes on ground simulators. These changes would allow the instruments to handle several missed synchronization messages while continuing to operate normally if they occur in the future. These changes will first be applied to another instrument, the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph, to further protect its sensitive far-ultraviolet detector. It will take the team several weeks to complete the testing and upload the changes to the spacecraft.

The telescope’s other instruments remain in safe mode as the engineers continue to investigate the problem that caused the shut down on October 25th.

China launches another Earth observation satellite

China’s high pace of launches in 2021 continued yesterday with another launch, this time placing an Earth observation satellite into orbit using its Long March 4C rocket.

This was China’s 43rd successful launch in ’21, three more than it had predicted it would achieve at the start of the year and the most any single nation has accomplished since the Russians completed 49 in 1994.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

43 China
25 SpaceX
18 Russia
5 Europe (Arianespace)

China now leads the U.S. 43 to 40 in the national rankings.

Webb launch delayed four days because of “incident” during stacking

NASA management has decided to delay the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope for four days while engineers investigate whether an “incident” that occurred during the telescope’s stacking on top of an Ariane 5 rocket could have long term consequences.

Technicians were preparing to attach Webb to the launch vehicle adapter, which is used to integrate the observatory with the upper stage of the Ariane 5 rocket. A sudden, unplanned release of a clamp band – which secures Webb to the launch vehicle adapter – caused a vibration throughout the observatory.

A NASA-led anomaly review board was immediately convened to investigate and instituted additional testing to determine with certainty the incident did not damage any components. NASA and its mission partners will provide an update when the testing is completed at the end of this week.

The launch had been scheduled for December 18th. They have now pushed it back to December 22nd.

Posting will be light…

Our regal guard cat, Emma
Our regal guard cat, Emma.

The past weekend was probably the worst in my life. First I was blacklisted by my entire caving community, many of whom I had considered close friends, because I have for the last twenty months refused to quarantine and hide in my home. While they have hunkered down in fear, I have been running monthly cave trips, with no ill effects at all.

My success demonstrated that the lockdowns and mask mandates accomplished little. So of course, rather than rethink their fear-driven policies, the caving community decided I must become a non-person.

This won’t change anything, as I will still run monthly cave trips with people who see COVID for what it is, nothing more than a variation of the flu that cannot hurt you if you are young and healthy.

The weekend then ended with Diane and I being forced to put one of our two cats to sleep due to the sudden and unexpected total failure of her kidneys. Emma was only nine. It was heart-breaking to say good-bye to her.

And finally, I am fighting a cold, which leaves me with little energy. My doctor (and I) are pretty confident it is not COVID, but even if it was, it is merely exhausting and will take a few more days for me to fight it off.

Until then, my posting might be a bit lighter than normal.

Today’s blacklisted American: Army cadet with natural immunity forced from West Point

No longer defended at West Point
The Constitution: No longer defended at West Point.

Despite having had COVID so that she has natural immunity and is better protected from getting it again as well as passing on to others, West Point cadet Hannah MacDonald was forced out of the Army because of its oppressive discriminatory policies against those who refuse to get COVID shots.

The litany of wrongs MacDonald was forced to undergo violated numerous laws, all of which our modern McCarthyites care little about.

  • The Army revealed her medical history to all, in violation of HPPA requirements, with one officer nonchalantly stating “HIPAA isn’t the be-all, end-all.”
  • The mandates forcing the COVID shots on her violated the Nuremberg Code, a signed treaty of the U.S. and the law of the land. When she noted this, she “was told this small legal distinction didn’t matter.”
  • The Army treated her and others who would not get the shots as second class citizens, discriminating against them in numerous ways while re-establishing the worst forms of segregation against them, all in violation of numerous civil rights legislation.

This quote from MacDonald’s story at the link best illustrates the Army’s insane policy:
» Read more

History Unplugged – The Age of Discovery 2.0: Episode 6

Episode six of the six part series, The Age of Discovery 2.0, from the podcast, History Unplugged, is now available here.

On this episode Scott Rank interviews Ram Jakhu, an associate professor at McGill University and a researcher on international space law. From the show summary:

The British East India Company is perhaps the most powerful corporation in history. It was larger than several nations and acted as emperor of the Indian subcontinent, commanding a private army of 260,000 soldiers (twice the size of the British Army at the time). The East India Company controlled trade between Britain and India, China, and Persia, reaping enormous profits, flooding Europe with tea, cotton, and spices. Investors earned returns of 30 percent or more.

With SpaceX building reusable rockets and drawing up plans to colonize Mars, could we be seeing a new British East India Company for the 21st century? The idea isn’t that far-fetched. In the terms of service for its Starlink satellite internet, one clause reads the following: “For Services provided on Mars, or in transit to Mars via Starship or other colonization spacecraft, the parties recognize Mars as a free planet and that no Earth-based government has authority or sovereignty over Martian activities. Accordingly, Disputes will be settled through self-governing principles, established in good faith, at the time of Martian settlement.”

Senate Democrats trying to sneak $10 billion payoff to Bezos’s Blue Origin in military budget

Senator Majority leader Charles Schumer (D-New York) and Senator Jack Reed (D-Rhode Island) have inserted a $10 billion subsidy to Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space company in a $250 billion budget bill they are pushing that they claim will address things like the semiconductor chip shortage and the supply chain issues.

The bill, called the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act of 2021, or USICA (pdf available here), is of course mostly filled with payoffs to the friends of Democrats, and will likely achieve nothing that is promised. It is also like all the budget bills being pushed by the Democratic Party in that it treats money as if it grows on trees. They can spend as much as they want, with no consequences at all.

Worse, Schumer and his cronies are trying to hide this pork bill by making it part of the annual military budget bill, dubbed NDAA.

To prove that this is nothing more than corrupt payoffs we need only look at the $10 billion subsidy to Blue Origin. This is a company being directly financed, in the billions, by Bezos himself. It has no shortage of cash. It not only doesn’t need government subsidies, it has never even looked for private investment capital. Bezos has provided it billions from his own pocket, far more cash than SpaceX has ever had on hand.

Yet Bezos is lobbying Democrats for this subsidy, aimed at financing his failed manned lunar lander project that NASA simply doesn’t have the cash to build and also doesn’t want to build because it was a generally weak proposal. From the bill:

This section would require the NASA Administrator to maintain competitiveness within the human landing system by funding design, development, testing, and evaluation for at least two entities. It would also authorize, in addition to amounts otherwise appropriated for the Artemis program, for fiscal years 2021 through 2026, $10.032 billion to NASA to carry out the human landing system program.

In other words, force NASA to award that second manned lunar lander, with Blue Origin almost certainly the winner.

Whether Schumer’s games here will pay off for Bezos remains unknown. I expect most senate Republicans will oppose it (other than the typical RINO fools like Romney). Already Democrats like Bernie Sanders have expressed opposition, as well as at least one children’s lobbying group that appears more aligned with the left than the right.

And even if it passes in the Senate, the House will have to approve, and we can expect ample opposition there from both parties.

Nanoracks signs deal to be first customer for Canadian spaceport

Capitalism in space: Nanoracks announced yesterday that it has signed a deal with Maritime Launch Services, the Canadian company managing a proposed spaceport in Nova Scotia as well as the launch services of a Ukrainian-built rocket, the Cyclone-4M.

The company and spaceport are targeting 2023 for launch.

Spaceport Nova Scotia is being operated a little differently than most of the new commercial spaceports. Instead of offering its facilities to all rocket companies, its manager, Maritime, has partnered with the two Ukrainian companies, Yuzhnoye and Yuzhmash, that build the Cyclone-4M. They then offer the spaceport and rocket, as a unit, directly to satellite companies like Nanoracks.

China’s Long March 4B rocket launches Earth observation satellite

China early today successfully placed an Earth observation satellite in orbit, using its Long March 4B rocket.

This was China’s 42nd successful launch in 2021, which is two launches more than it had projected it would fly at the start of the years.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

42 China
25 SpaceX
18 Russia
5 Europe (Arianespace)

China now leads the U.S. 42 to 40 in the national rankings.

Astra successfully completes first orbital launch

Screen capture 12 seconds after liftoff
Screen capture 12 seconds after liftoff.

Capitalism in space: Astra tonight successfully launched a dummy payload into low Earth orbit. This was their first success after four tries.

The company now joins Rocket Lab and Virgin Orbit as the three operational smallsat rocket launch providers.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

41 China
25 SpaceX
18 Russia
5 Europe (Arianespace)

China’s lead over the U.S. in the national rankings has now narrowed to 41 to 40. For the U.S. the 40 launches so far this year ties the entire total from all of last year. With about six weeks left in the year, the U.S. is likely to add a good number of launches to this total. If the total tops 50, it will be first time since the mid-1960s that the U.S. has done that.

The total number of successful launches this year is presently 107. There is an excellent chance the total will exceed 120, a number last seen routinely during the 1970s and 1980s. The highest total ever was 132 in 1975. There is a slim chance that can be beat this year, but if not, I would expect it will be easily eclipsed next year.

1 2 3 4 834