Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of makng 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.
 
Scroll down for today's updates.

Leaving Earth cover

Now available as an inexpensive ebook!
 

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

 

A handful of autographed, hardback copies are still available, directly from the author, for $50, plus $5 shipping. To buy one, please send a $55 check, payable to Robert Zimmerman, to
 

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

The printed version of this book is now out-of-print, so when these are gone, new copies will no longer be available. Get yours while you still can!
 

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

More gravitational waves detected

Using the LIGO and Virgo gravitational wave telescopes astronomers have detected two more gravitational waves.

On April 25, 2019, one of the twin LIGO instruments and the Virgo detector observed a candidate signal which – if confirmed – would be the first binary neutron star merger during the third observation run, which began on April 1. A second candidate signal was seen on April 26, which – if confirmed – could be a never-observed-before collision of a neutron star with a black hole. The latter candidate was observed by both LIGO instruments and the Virgo detector. Dozens of telescopes on the Earth and in space are searching for electromagnetic or astro-particle counterparts. No identification with an electromagnetic transient signal nor a host galaxy has been made to date for either candidate.

The resolution of LIGO and VIRGO are somewhat limited, so other telescopes have to scan a very large part of the sky to spot a counterpart. It is therefore likely that it will be years before the first counterpart event is identified. When it is however it will tell us how far away the event was and confirm what kind of event it was. Right now, they are only making educated guesses.

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India sets Chandrayaan-2 launch and lunar landing dates

India’s space agency ISRO has announced that the launch of Chandrayaan-2 will take place in a window from July 9 to July 16, and the landing of its Vikram rover will occur on September 6.

The delay in the landing is probably to allow Chandrayaan-2 to get to the Moon, then review the landing site to make sure it is acceptable.

This is not the first time they have announced a launch schedule for Chandrayaan-2 and then delayed it. This time however I think the dates are firm.

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New Shepard test flight successful

Capitalism in space: Blue Origin is planning to do another New Shepard test flight within the next hour.

You can watch it here.

The flight was successful. It was the fifth flight of this spacecraft and booster. They reached 346,000 feet elevation, about 65 miles.

During the telecast the announcer said that Blue Origin hopes to initiate passenger flights before the end of this year.

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Genesis cover

Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, and includes a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

 
The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit.

 
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

ISS power repaired, SpaceX launch early tomorrow

Using the station’s robot arm astronauts on ISS have replaced a failed electrical component, restoring the station to full power and allowing a Dragon cargo launch to go forward early tomorrow morning.

The failure had reduced the station’s power by 25%. It also shut down some redundancy in the system that ran the robot arm that will grab and berth Dragon. NASA did not want to do that berthing without that redundancy, which they once again have.

The SpaceX launch is set for 3:11 am (eastern) tonight, or just past midnight on the west coast.

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Covington lawyers file defamation lawsuit against NBC/MSNBC

Push back: The lawyers for Kentucky teenager Nick Sandman have filed their third defamation lawsuit, this time against NBC/MSNBC for $275 million.

The previous suits were against the Washington Post for $250 million and CNN for $275 million. All three outlets have had a a truly dismal and partisan track record in the past two decades, which only grew more unreliable with the election of Donald Trump. They repeatedly get their facts wrong, and then refuse to correct the record when it is shown how wrong they were. As a prime example, all three bought into the Russian collusion hoax, spending two years selling the blatantly absurd idea that Donald Trump was a Russian agent who colluded with them to steal the 2016 election.

Trump however is a politician, and an adult. No one is surprised or horrified by that kind of dirty politics. Nick Sandman however was an innocent sixteen-year-old minor, attacked viciously for merely being white, pro-life, and for wearing a MAGA hat. With the evidence available that clearly shows how these leftist news outlets slandered him, all three outlets are very vulnerable to a big loss when this case gets before a Kentucky jury. In fact, I think his lawyers would be fools to settle.

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The battle over Trump’s Moon effort exposes Washington’s power-hungry bureaucracy

This analysis by Eric Berger at Ars Technica of the political situation surrounding SLS, Orion, Gateway, and the Trump administration’s desire to quickly get back to the Moon is quite cogent and worth reading in full. It suggests that it will be very difficult for Trump to get his lunar landing, for several reasons. First, the Democrats in the House will likely not fund it. Second, because to get it done by 2024 will likely require switching to private rockets, and that action will be opposed by Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama). And third because there are factions in the NASA bureaucracy that are in love with SLS and Gateway and will work to save it.

This quote is most telling:

At NASA headquarters, [human spaceflight chief Bill] Gerstenmaier and this team that plays a central role in developing policy for the space agency are likely content to play a waiting game. Without an increased budget he can continue to spend money on developing the SLS rocket for some future launch date and begin procuring elements of the Lunar Gateway. He can make some small investments in a lunar lander but doesn’t have to commit to its development before the end of next year, which may bring a new president and new priorities.

In other words, Bill Gerstenmaier, an unelected bureaucrat at NASA, has more power to determine U.S. space policy than elected lawmakers.

I ask, how does Gerstenmaier have the right to “develop policy for the space agency?” What legislative authority gives him the right to “play a waiting game” while continuing to “spend money on developing the SLS rocket… and procuring elements of Lunar Gateway?” These are policy decisions that belong solely to Congress and the President, not some hired government bureaucrat.

In a sense this story is only another reflection of the entire Russian collusion scandal. Hired government officials with no legal authority decide that they really know best, and this hubris allows them to supplant the decisions of lawmakers, and even attempt to overthrow them if necessary.

I reluctantly predicted this behavior back in June 2016 when I visited Washington and wrote this essay: The think tank culture of Washington:

What will this elite community do should Trump win the presidency and start demanding that they do things differently? Will they recognize that we are a democracy and work with him, the elected choice of the American people, or will they resist because he isn’t the politician they wanted and wants to institute policies they disagree with?

…I fear that the culture of Washington is becoming increasingly hostile to and insulated against the choices of the American electorate. I fear that they will one day soon decide to team up with the politicians they like to use the concentrated power we have given them in Washington to reject those choices, even to the extent of tossing out the Constitution and the democratic legal system that made the United States once the freest and wealthiest nation in the history of the human race.

I hope I am wrong. I pray that I am wrong. I think we might very well find out in the coming year.

Sadly, what we have learned in the past three years is that this Washington think tank culture is quite willing to overthrow the Constitution and the law, to get what they want. The situation at NASA only gives us another example of this terrible reality.

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Satellites map out Earth’s Great Whirl

Using more than two decades of satellite data scientists have mapped out the yearly evolution of the
Great Whirl, a gigantic weather formation that routinely forms off the coast of Somalia each year, lasts for more than half the year, and is closely linked to India’s annual monsoon season.

Using 23 years of satellite data, the new findings show the Great Whirl is larger and longer-lived than scientists previously thought. At its peak, the giant whirlpool is, on average, 275,000 square kilometers (106,000 square miles) in area and persists for about 200 days out of the year.

More than being just a curiosity, the Great Whirl is closely connected to the monsoon that drives the rainy season in India. Monsoon rains fuel India’s $2 trillion agricultural economy, but how much rain falls each year is notoriously difficult to forecast. If researchers can use their new method to discern a pattern in the Great Whirl’s formation, they might be able to better predict when India will have a very dry or very wet season compared to the average.

Below the fold is a short video showing the Whirl’s behavior during 2000. It appears that the Great Whirl is an atmospheric eddy formed by the prevailing east winds as they hit the coast of Somalia.
» Read more

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X-37B passes 600 days in orbit

One of the Air Force’s two X-37B reusable mini-shuttles has now passed 600 days in orbit.

At this moment this is third longest X-37B mission. However, if the mission lasts four more months it will become the longest.

The article states that it is “unclear” what the mission’s overall purpose is, though we do know that some onboard experiments are testing the ability of some technology to function for long periods in space. I suspect that the spacecraft itself is testing this. When it returns they will look at it closely to see if its design was sufficient for it to do long multi-year missions and then go back to do it again. Moreover, knowing how to build such a craft is essential for building interplanetary spaceship that carry humans to and from the planets.

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Trump & Democrats work out $2 trillion spending deal

The coming dark age: President Donald Trump and Congressional Democrats have come to a preliminary deal for spending an additional $2 trillion for “infrastructure.”

The dozen Democratic lawmakers in the meeting with the president called it a constructive start. They said Trump agreed that infrastructure investments should go beyond roads and bridges and include broadband, water systems, and enhancements to the electrical grid.

Democrats also put the onus on Trump to come up with a funding source, and said they would meet again in three weeks, when the president will present his ideas. The nation’s top business groups and labor unions support increasing the federal gasoline tax, currently 18.3 cents a gallon. It was last raised in 1993. [emphasis mine]

Everything about this deal illustrates the corruption and bankruptcy in Washington. They all think money falls from the sky like rain, and can be spent freely without any thought or discipline. Instead of looking for available cash to pay for this work, they will make a deal to spend the money, and hope new gas taxes will pay for it. They won’t, not by a long shot, and we will fall deeper into debt, even as we cripple the already handicapped citizenry with more taxes.

Worse, most of this spending is for local projects that should be paid for by local governments, as had once been the tradition. Now every Senator and Congressperson is making deals to bring federal cash back to their state or district, even if the federal government doesn’t have the money. And Trump is joining in the game, to win votes and claim he helped rebuild the country! No one mentions that we are going bankrupt, including the bankrupt press which joins the politicians in playing this gamel.

The politics of this deal also illustrate the corruption that is rotting the heart of the country. Too many voters cheer this wild spending on, voting for these very politicians because they bring home this bacon, even though it is bacon no one can afford. It is why the politicians spend the money. They benefit from it at the voting booth.

A dark age is coming. Be aware.

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SpaceX successfully tests core stage for June Falcon Heavy launch

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has successfully completed a static fire test of the core stage that it will use in its next Falcon Heavy commercial launch, now set for June.

This launch will be for the Air Force, and will place 23 satellites into a variety of different orbits. It will also help the Air Force certify the Falcon Heavy for future military launches.

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Firefly completes full duration test of second stage engine

Capitalism in space: Firefly Aerospace has successfully completed a full duration static test fire of the second stage engine of its Alpha rocket.

During the test, all of the second stage’s flight avionics, structures, and propulsion systems were subjected to a sustained firing consistent with a normal flight mission. According to Firefly, preliminary analysis of data from the test show that all of the rocket’s systems performed nominally, and a post-test inspection revealed no observable degradation of the stage systems.

Firefly is attempting to complete development of its Alpha rocket, which has a capacity of up to 1 ton to low-Earth orbit, for a launch by the end of this year from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The company could reach another milestone as early as August, when Firefly anticipates performing the first long-duration test of the Alpha rocket’s first stage.

If the company succeeds in completing an orbital launch by the end of 2019, they will have leaped from the back of the pack to become one of the leaders in the smallsat rocket industry, in an incredibly short time. The company was thought dead in 2016 after a lawsuit appeared to bankrupt it. Since then it obtained significant new capital and has risen from the ashes, at a speed that appears astonishing.

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Partial power outage on ISS today delays Dragon cargo mission

A partial power failure on the International Space Station has forced NASA to delay for at least two days the Dragon cargo mission that had been scheduled to launch early tomorrow morning.

The delay will allow time for NASA flight controllers at the Johnson Space Center in Houston to continue troubleshooting an issue with a distribution box in the space station’s electrical power system. Engineers detected an issue with the Main Bus Switching Unit on Monday morning, and ground teams plan to replace the component later this week, ahead of the SpaceX cargo launch. “Teams are working on a plan to robotically replace the failed unit and restore full power to the station system,” NASA said in a statement Tuesday. “The earliest possible launch opportunity is no earlier than Friday, May 3.”

The Main Bus Distribution Unit is one of several that routes power from the space station’s U.S. solar arrays to the research outpost’s electrical channels. The suspect unit distributes power to two of the eight electrical channels on the station, including a power supply for the space station’s robotic arm, which the station astronauts will use to capture the Dragon cargo craft as it approaches the complex.

While the robotic arm remains powered through a separate channel, NASA flight rules require redundant power supplies for the arm during critical operations, such as the grapple of a free-flying spacecraft.

Since the cargo Dragon freighter is berthed to the station using the robot arm, they want to get this fixed before launching Dragon. Right now the new launch date will occur no earlier than the wee hours of Friday, May 3.

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Lunar eclipse meteorite hit the Moon at almost 38,000 mph

By analyzing the data obtained of the meteorite impact that hit the Moon during the January 21 lunar eclipse, astronomers now estimate it crashed into the surface at almost 38,000 miles per hour and would have produced a crater about 50 feet across.

They also estimate that the meteorite itself had a mass of about 100 pounds with a diameter of between one to two feet.

The new crater itself has not yet been spotted, and probably can only be photographed with the high resolution camera on Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). I expect the LRO science team has already scheduled observations for this location. It will be interesting to see if the actual crater corresponds to the estimates of these astronomers.

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A stellar interloper in the Milky Way?

The uncertainty of science: Astronomers have identified a star inside the Milky Way whose chemical compositions suggests it was formed and originally came from a nearby dwarf galaxy.

This is the first discovery of a star having such extreme abundance ratios among Milky Way stars. On the other hand, several examples of stars having similar abundance ratios are known in dwarf galaxies. This result suggests that this star has formed in a dwarf galaxy, and has accreted onto the Milky Way in the process of galaxy formation. The abundance ratios of this star provide the clearest signature of merger events of dwarf galaxies in stellar chemical abundances known to date.

Though presently unique, this star probably is not the only such interloper in the Milky Way. It is believed by astronomers that our galaxy has absorbed a number of dwarf galaxies as it formed and grew, so we should expect more such stars to be discovered with time.

At the same time, we also must exercise some skepticism. Our understanding of galaxy formation is very preliminary, and thus the astronomers might be assuming too much about the chemical composition of dwarf galaxies in coming to this conclusion.

Posted at Los Angeles Airport on my way to Cannon Beach, Oregon, for a short vacation with friends.

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Barry Humphries – Dame Edna Everage

An evening pause: Hat tip Jim Mallamace, who explains, “Australian comedian, Barry Humphries, is Dame Edna Everage.” This appearance was on the Michael Parkinson Show in Australian in 2004, and included actors Judi Dench and Sharon Osborne.

This is what great comedy is. Many of the lines really make no sense, or are dated about things you might not know anything about, but you laugh anyway because Humphries is just plain funny, and has magnificent timing.

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Curiosity second drill hole in clay formation a success

two drill holes in clay formation
Click for full image.

The Curiosity science team has confirmed that their second drill hole in the clay formation that the rover is presently exploring was a success.

They have confirmed that enough material from the drill hole has been deposited in their chemical analysis hopper.

The image to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, shows both drill holes on the two different flat sections of bedrock near the top.

It seems that the science team wants to spend a lot of time in this location, as described in my last rover update. It is therefore unclear when they will move south to follow their long term travel plans.

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Chang’e-4 and Yutu-2 awaken for fifth lunar day

The new colonial movement: China’s lunar lander Chang’e-4 and rover Yutu-2 have been awakened to begin work for their fifth lunar day on the far side of the Moon.

According to the report from this official Chinese government news source, Yutu-2 has now traveled just under 600 feet from the lander. We know from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) images taken during the rover’s second lunar day of travel that it had moved to the west, but we don’t really know much else beyond that. LRO has not released any new images, and the Chinese have not told us.

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Settlement reached in lawsuit about private lunar mission

A lawsuit filed in 2017 by a man who had paid Space Adventures a $7 million deposit for a ticket to fly on a Soyuz rocket around the Moon has now been settled

McPike, an Austrian businessman and adventurer who lives in the Bahamas, filed the original suit in May 2017, seeking the return of a $7 million deposit he paid to Space Adventures for a $150 million seat on a Soyuz mission that would go around the moon, and additional damages. The defendants in the suit included Space Adventures; Tom Shelley, the company’s president; and Eric Anderson, the company’s chairman and chief executive.

According to McPike’s suit, he contacted Space Adventures in July 2012 about the possibility of flying on a mission around the moon that the company had been promoting for several years. In March 2013, he signed an agreement committing to participate in such a mission, and paid an initial deposit of $7 million towards the $150 million total price with the expectation that the mission would take place within six years.

McPike was scheduled to make a second deposit of $8 million one year after contract signing, but he postponed that because of concerns he had regarding the limited progress on developing the mission, including lack of information from the Russian companies and agencies that would carry out it. Space Adventures terminated the agreement in March 2015 after McPike failed to make that payment and retained his $7 million deposit.

According to his suit, McPike later contacted the Russian space agency Roscosmos directly, and was informed that, contrary to the contract he signed, there was no formal relationship between the agency and Space Adventures for a circumlunar mission, that that the proposed mission was only in the “preliminary planning phase” along with several other future projects.

The details of the settlement were not released.

The article also provides near the end a nice summary of all recent private attempts to fly humans around the Moon, including SpaceX’s now ongoing plan to fly a Japanese businessman in 2023 using its Starship upper stage.

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FCC approves SpaceX’s Starlink constellation

Capitalism in space: The FCC has approved SpaceX’s revised plan for its Starlink satellite constellation designed to provide global internet access.

SpaceX already had authorization for 4,425 Starlink satellites that would use Ku- and Ka-band radio spectrum to beam internet data, but last November, the company asked the FCC to sign off on a plan that would put more than a third of the satellites in 550-kilometer-high (340-mile-high) orbits rather than the previously approved 1,150-kilometer (715-mile) orbits.

Eventually, SpaceX plans to add another wave of more than 7,500 satellites in even lower orbits to enhance the constellation’s coverage.

They hope to begin launching their first set of satellites by May, and begin commercial operations as early as 2021.

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Two Chinese companies test reusable rocket technology

Link here.

One company, Space Transportation, tested on April 22 a design for launching its first stage vertically and then landinf it on a runway.

The joint flight was to test the performance of the dual waverider forebody configuration designed by Xiamen University’s School of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and to verify the rocket recovery and reuse technology, according to Xinhua. The 8.7-meter-long Jiageng-1 has a wingspan of 2.5 meters and part of development of the larger, future Tianxing-I-1 vertical takeoff, horizontal landing reusable launch vehicle.

Beijing-based Space Transportation, founded in August 2018 and also known as Lingkong Tianxing, received backing worth several million U.S. dollars from Source Code Capital earlier this year. [emphasis mine]

The second company, Linkspace, did on April 19th a untethered vertical take off and landing of a small prototype first stage, getting about 130 feet off the ground.

The highlighted words above are intriguing. I did not think it was legal for American investors to invest in Chinese rocket companies.

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NASA safety panel on SLS schedule, Dragon explosion

NASA’s safety panel held a long scheduled meeting to review NASA’s on-going manned projects, and had the following to say:

The first story describes very little new information about the explosion on April 20th that destroyed the Dragon crew capsule during engine tests, other than it occurred in connection with the firing of the Dragon’s eight SuperDraco engines. I am being vague because they were.

The second story describes the panel’s strong objection to any effort by NASA to trim the test program for SLS in order to meet the Trump administration’s 2024 deadline for returning to the Moon. It also confirms officially for the first time that NASA will not be able to fly the first unmanned mission of SLS in 2020. That flight is now expected in 2021, a decade after NASA began development of SLS, and seventeen years after George Bush Jr first proposed NASA build this heavy-lift rocket.

That’s practically one person’s entire career at NASA. Seems pretty shameful to me.

While I actually agree with the panel’s advice in both of these stories, both stories however do reflect the overall culture of this safety panel: Go slow, take no risks, be patient. This culture is in fact so cautious that it has served to practically make impossible any American exploration of space, on our own rockets.

Based on what I expect now during the investigation of the Dragon explosion, I would not be surprised if the panel successfully delays the first manned Dragon launch another year or two or three.

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