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

Today’s blacklisted American: Unvaccinated Americans should be denied health care, according to television show host Jimmy Kimmel

Coming to your town in America soon!
Rounding up the unclean unvaccinated: What Jimmy Kimmel wants.

Genocide is coming: According to television show host Jimmy Kimmel, people who have not gotten the Wuhan flu shots, whether by choice or medical necessity, should be denied access to health care in hospitals.

“It was not a fun Labor Day weekend COVID-wise,” Kimmel said in his post-holiday monologue. “Dr. Fauci said if hospitals get any more overcrowded they’re going to have to make some very tough choices about who gets an ICU bed.”

He added, “That choice doesn’t seem so tough to me. ‘Vaccinated person having a heart attack? Yes, come right in, we’ll take care of you. Unvaccinated guy who gobbled horse goo? Rest in peace, wheezy.‘” [emphasis mine]

So much for the left’s endless mantra, “Healthcare is a right!” Kimmel is a typical leftist who deep inside is really “a totalitarian screaming to get out.” He now thinks it is okay to treat some humans as subhuman, because they happen to have made some decisions in life he disagrees with.
» Read more

Roscosmos declares film crew fit for launch to ISS

Capitalism in space: Roscosmos last week announced that the actress and director who plan to fly to ISS in October to film scenes for a science fiction movie are fit to fly.

Director Klim Shipenko and actor Yulia Peresild got the thumbs-up after a meeting of the Chief Medical Commission at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center near Moscow, Russia’s federal space agency Roscosmos announced last week.

Cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, who is scheduled to launch toward the orbiting lab with Shipenko and Peresild aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft on Oct. 5, also got final medical clearance. So did the backups for the mission: cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev, director Alexey Dudin and actor Alena Mordovina.

The movie script itself, about an astronaut who gets a heart attack while on a spacewalk and then has to have surgery in space before returning to Earth, actually sounds quite good and — most refreshing — well grounded in reality. American space films tend to go in absurd directions, often because the filmmakers are ignorant and have no interest in learning anything about the subject they are writing about.

So far, the schedule of upcoming space tourist flights appears on track to happen, as announced:

  • September 15, 2021: SpaceX’s Dragon capsule flies four private citizens on a three day orbital flight
  • October 2021: The Russians will fly two passengers to ISS for 10 days to shoot a movie
  • December 2021: The Russians will fly billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and his assistant to ISS for 12 days
  • cDecember 2021: Space Adventures, using a Dragon capsule, will fly four in orbit for five days
  • January 2022: Axiom, using a Dragon capsule, will fly four tourists to ISS
  • 2022-2024: Three more Axiom tourist flights on Dragon to ISS
  • 2024: Axiom begins launching its own modules to ISS, starting construction of its own private space station
  • c2024: SpaceX’s Starship takes Yusaku Maezawa and several others on a journey around the Moon.
Readers!
 

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The boom in commercial space continues

Starship on an early test flight
Modern rocketry soaring under freedom

Capitalism in space: In the last two days there have been so many stories about different space companies winning new contracts I think it is important to illustrate this in one essay, rather than in multiple posts. Below is the list:

The last two stories are possibly the most significant, because both show that the shift in space from government-built to privately-built, as I advocated in my 2017 policy paper, Capitalism in Space, is spreading to other countries. » Read more

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

Glaciers and mesas on Mars

Overview map

Cool image time! Today we return to glacier country on Mars, that band of mensae mesas and glaciers that stretches more than 2,000 miles in the northern mid-latitudes, as shown on the overview map above.

No rovers or landers have yet visited this region, nor are any planned. To the west just beyond the map’s left edge is the planned landing site of Europe’s Franklin rover. To the east and south and just beyond the map’s right edge is where America’s Perseverance rover presently travels in Jezero Crater.

Our journey today begins from afar, and will steadily zoom into the area of the red cross and a most intriguing feature seen in a recent picture taken by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

Before we look at that high resolution image, it is better to view the area using MRO’s context camera, as what it shows helps make sense of the features in the close-up.
» Read more

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.

NASA now targets December 18, 2021 for launch of Webb

NASA today announced that it and the European Space Agency have scheduled the Ariane 5 launch of the James Webb Space Telescope from French Guiana for December 18, 2021.

The agency set the new target launch date in coordination with Arianespace after Webb recently and successfully completed its rigorous testing regimen – a major turning point for the mission. The new date also follows Arianespace successfully launching an Ariane 5 rocket in late July and scheduling a launch that will precede Webb. The July launch was the first for an Ariane 5 since August 2020.

Launching before the end of ’21 will allow NASA to claim that Webb is only be ten years behind schedule, not eleven. The cost overruns however remain astronomical (no pun intended). Initially budgeted at $500 million, Webb is now estimated to have cost $10 billion.

Once launched the telescope will take about six months to slowly move to its Lagrange point location about a million miles from the Earth, in the Earth’s shadow. During that time it will also be steadily deploying its many segmented mirror for infrared observations (an important detail as Webb is not a replacement for Hubble, which does most of its observations in the optical wavelengths).

Should deployment and placement go as planned, Webb will undoubtedly do ground-breaking astronomy, especially in the field of deep space cosmology. If anything should go wrong, any repair mission will take at a minimum five years to mount, if ever.

Keep those fingers and toes crossed!

Report: NASA’s bad management of infrastructure projects routinely leads to cost overruns and delays

A report released today [pdf] by NASA’s inspector general has found that NASA’s management of its infrastructure projects — designed to replace or upgrade existing facilities — is badly organized and routinely leads to cost overruns and delays.

According to the report, NASA has been spending about $359 million per year on its infrastructure for the past five years, about $1.8 billion. And what have we gotten from this spending? This quote from the report sums it up nicely:

Of the 20 [Construction of Facilities] projects we reviewed, 6 incurred significant cost overruns ranging from $2.2 million to $36.6 million and 16 of the projects are 3 months to more than 3 years behind their initial schedules. Costs increased primarily because requirements were not fully developed by the Agency before construction began, requirements were not fully understood by contractors, and contract prices were higher than originally estimated. Delays occurred because projects faced postponed start times and changing requirements, among other reasons. Finally, NASA did not provide effective oversight to determine whether the Agency’s portfolio of [Construction of Facilities] projects met cost, schedule, and performance goals. [Facilities and Real Estate Division] has failed to consistently keep up with oversight requirements of approved and funded projects and current oversight guidance does not align with Agency facility goals. [emphasis mine]

But don’t worry. Congress is about to pour several more billion dollars into NASA’s coffers for infrastructure work. I am sure the agency will figure out ways to go overbudget and behind schedule with this money as well.

For more than twenty years I have seen government-run projects fail miserably, across the board, Whether it be big rockets, high speed trains, military actions in foreign countries, foreign intelligence, or health policies in response to new viruses, our government routinely fails, its effort quickly falling far behind schedule while costing many times its initial budget. Worst of all, the final product is often useless or completely unable to achieve its initial stated goals.

And yet, Americans don’t seem to notice. We still turn first to government for everything. Too many of us depend on the CDC for our health advice, though its advice has been repeatedly mistaken, inconsistent, or just plain wrong for years. Others think NASA is the only one who can build and launch a manned space mission, though almost all of its in-house manned projects have been disasters for decades.

And above all, we must use our military to shape and reshape nations worldwide, though our military has done poorly in almost every war it has fought since World War II.

There are exceptions to all this, but the overall pattern is clear. As Tucker Carlson said recently, “We are led by buffoons.”
» Read more

Today’s blacklisted American: Head of software game company forced out because he expressed a pro-life opinion

The Bill of Rights cancelled at Tripwire
No freedom of speech allowed in the software
and gaming industries.

They’re coming for you next: John Gipson, the co-founder and president of the software game company Tripwire, has been forced to step down because he had the nerve to issue a single tweet expressing support for Texas’s new anti-abortion law.

The tweet quickly generated intense controversy. Many individual gamers called for a boycott of Tripwire’s games, sharing tips on how to hide listings for its products in Steam’s online game store or making donations to women’s charities in Mr Gibson’s name.

Supporters of the Texas law also responded, with the original tweet clocking up nearly 13,000 replies.

But Shipwright Studios, a “work-for-hire” studio that contributed to some of Tripwire’s games, wrote it was ending a three-year relationship because of Mr Gibson’s comments. “While your politics are your own, the moment you make them a matter of public discourse you entangle all of those working for and with you,” Shipwright Studios said. “We cannot in good conscience continue to work with Tripwire under the current leadership… [and] will begin the cancellation of our existing contracts”.

Tom Banner studios, the creator of one of the games that Tripwire publishes (Chivalry 2), also came out condemning Gibson, as did several of his partners at Tripwire.

So what evil thing did Gibson say? Here is the entire content of his tweet:
» Read more

Update on status of first orbital Starship/Superheavy

Capitalism in space: The first planned orbital Superheavy booster, prototype #4, has been moved back to the orbital launch site, this time with all of its 29 engines fully installed.

It appears SpaceX engineers are about to begin an extensive test campaign of this booster and its engines. They need to test the fueling of all 29 engines. They need to test fire the engines as a unit. And they need to do a full static fire of them all to see if they will work together as planned.

All these tests, which based on SpaceX’s past pace, will likely take about three to four weeks, which means that the orbital test flight cannot occurr before the end of September, as previously guessed. More likely they will not be ready to fly before the end of October, at the soonest.

That schedule is also impacted by the FAA’s bureaucracy, which still needs to approve the environmental assessment required before any Starship orbital flight. That approval process has been ongoing, but could still take several more months, especially if the effort by some fearful environmentalists to stop the flight gains political momentum.

Astronomers discover white dwarf stars still burning hydrogen

The uncertainty of science: Using Hubble observations of the white dwarfs in two different globular clusters, astronomers have discovered that — contrary to the consensus opinion — some white dwarf stars are not slowly cooling embers of a dead star, but are still generating nuclear fusion by burning hydrogen in their outer layers.

Using Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 the team observed [globular clusters] M3 and M13 at near-ultraviolet wavelengths, allowing them to compare more than 700 white dwarfs in the two clusters. They found that M3 contains standard white dwarfs, which are simply cooling stellar cores. M13, on the other hand, contains two populations of white dwarfs: standard white dwarfs and those which have managed to hold on to an outer envelope of hydrogen, allowing them to burn for longer and hence cool more slowly.

Comparing their results with computer simulations of stellar evolution in M13, the researchers were able to show that roughly 70% of the white dwarfs in M13 are burning hydrogen on their surfaces, slowing down the rate at which they are cooling.

This discovery could have consequences for how astronomers measure the ages of stars in the Milky Way galaxy. The evolution of white dwarfs has previously been modeled as a predictable cooling process. This relatively straightforward relationship between age and temperature has led astronomers to use the white dwarf cooling rate as a natural clock to determine the ages of star clusters, particularly globular and open clusters. However, white dwarfs burning hydrogen could cause these age estimates to be inaccurate by as much as 1 billion years.

In other words, many past age estimates for star clusters could be very wrong, which in turn could mean the general understanding of the evolution of these objects could be very wrong as well.

These results also illustrate a fact that astronomers seem to always forget. The stars in any one category (white dwarfs, red super giants, yellow stars like the Sun, etc.) are not all identical, and thus their life and death processes will not all follow the predicted stages, like clockwork. Things are always far more complicated. Though the predictions might be broadly right, there will be many variations, so many that it will often be difficult to draw a generalized conclusion.

It seems that with white dwarfs astronomers have made this mistake, and now must rethink many of their conclusions.

Firefly confirms launch failure due to the premature shutdown of one engine

Capitalism in space: Firefly this past weekend confirmed that its September 2nd launch failure was caused when one of the Alpha rocket’s first stage engines shut down almost immediately after liftoff.

On Sunday (Sept. 5), the company announced the proximate cause of the failure: One of Alpha’s four first-stage Reaver engines shut down unexpectedly about 15 seconds after liftoff. “The vehicle continued to climb and maintain control for a total of about 145 seconds, whereas nominal first-stage burn duration is about 165 seconds. However, due to missing the thrust of 1 of 4 engines, the climb rate was slow, and the vehicle was challenged to maintain control without the thrust vectoring of engine 2,” Alpha representatives wrote in a Twitter thread on Sunday.

“Alpha was able to compensate at subsonic speeds, but as it moved through transonic and into supersonic flight, where control is most challenging, the three-engine thrust vector control was insufficient and the vehicle tumbled out of control. The range terminated the flight using the explosive Flight Termination System (FTS). The rocket did not explode on its own,” they added.

The engine apparently did not fail or explode, it merely closed its main propellant valves so the engine was no longer being fed fuel. Though they obviously they need to find out why this happened, the nature of the failure is actually encouraging. It suggests a relatively easy fix (with a strong emphasis on the word “relatively”).

Debris from Firefly launch rains down near launch spectators

Alpha rocket exploding
Screen capture of explosion from Everyday Astronaut live stream.

When the range officer was forced to terminate the first launch of Firefly’s Alpha rocket on September 2, 2021, the subsequent explosion caused some of the debris to apparently fall near the spectators who had come out to see the launch.

Spectators who gathered across the Central Coast to watch the launch of Firefly Aerospace’s Alpha rocket — a privately designed, unmanned rocket built to carry satellites — instead saw it explode midair and debris rain down on nearby areas.

“I saw this thing floating down from the sky … then another piece, then another, and then hundreds of pieces varying in size were falling,” said Mike Hecker, a resident of Solvang who was out mountain biking in the Orcutt Hills with a large group of friends. “It was surreal to have rocket debris raining down on you,” he said.

According to all reports, it appears no one was injured or even came close to getting hurt.

We need to accept such things if we wish to do great things. The range officer destroyed the rocket to make sure it did not fly in one piece into anything on the ground, something that would have certainly caused great harm. Blowing it up prevented that, though it resulted in a small risk that smaller pieces might hit something.

Once, a story like this would have been intriguing but would have bothered no one. In today’s culture — which attempts to give everyone a “safe space” even from dissenting opinions — I fear that we shall find greater restrictions soon placed on launches.

Today’s blacklisted American: The National Archives blacklists the Constitution and Declaration of Independence

The National Archives

The intolerance sweeping through our country has become so mindless that it repeatedly ends up being completely insane. It now appears that the website of the National Archives, which is also tasked with preserving the originals of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, automatically places a “harmful language alert” on all three.

The screen capture to the right shows the National Archives webpage for viewing the first page of the Constitution. The red box indicates the alert. That alert also appears at the top for every other page of the Constitution. It also appears if you view the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. (You can see screen captures of these additional alerts here and here.)

According to the National Archives, this “harmful language alert” exists because it is tasked with preserving all past documents, and thus must also make available to the public documents that:
» Read more

China’s Chang’e-5 orbiter returning to lunar space

The new colonial movement: In a somewhat bold move, Chinese engineers appear to now be shifting the Chang’e-5 orbiter so that it will be able to return to lunar space to fly past the Moon.

The orbiter, one of four distinct Chang’e-5 mission spacecraft, delivered a return module containing 1.731 kilograms of lunar samples to Earth Dec. 16 before firing its engines to deep space for an extended mission.

The Chang’e-5 orbiter later successfully entered an intended orbit around Sun-Earth Lagrange point 1, roughly 1.5 million kilometers, in March. There it carried out tests related to orbit control and observations of the Earth and Sun.

New data from satellite trackers now suggests Chang’e-5 has left its orbit around Sun-Earth L1 and is destined for a lunar flyby early September 9 Eastern time.

This data comes not from China but from amateur astronomers who specialize in tracking satellites.

The fly-by could provide the spacecraft the velocity it needs to reach near Earth asteroid Kamo’oalewa, which China has said it is targeting for a 2024 sample return mission. Such a reconnaissance will help them design the sample return mission.

Ingenuity completes 13th flight

Ingenuity landing on September 5, 2021
Click for full image.

Though the full slate of images taken has not yet been released, it appears from the five images available that the thirteenth flight of Ingenuity on September 5, 2021 ended successfully. The photo to the right is the last available, and shows the helicopter’s shadow on the ground mere seconds before touch down. The landing legs’ shadows suggest it is oriented properly for that landing.

No word yet on how successful the flight itself was. The goal had been to fly back over the South Seitah area from a different angle and lower altitude, getting different perspectives of the ridges there to help plan Perseverance’s coming travels across that terrain.

The second picture below, cropped, reduced, and enhanced to post here, was taken about forty minutes before take-off by Perseverance and captures Ingenuity in the lower left, as indicated by the arrow.
» Read more

China Long March 4C rocket launches satellite

According to China’s state-run press, the country launched an “earth observation” satellite today using its Long March 4C rocket.

The satellite is part of a series of similar satellites launched by civilian agencies ostensibly for civilian use. The rocket was launched from an interior spaceport. No word on whether its first stage carried grid fins or parachutes to control its landing in the interior of China, or whether it crashed near habitable areas.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

30 China
21 SpaceX
13 Russia
4 Northrop Grumman

The U.S. lead over China in the national rankings has now narrowed to 32 to 30.

House NASA budget cuts all funding for lunar lander but adds billions for “infrastructure”

The House science committee is about to propose a NASA budget that would cut all funding for a lunar lander but add $4 billion so that NASA can build new buildings and facilities.

An updated draft of the bill, dated Sept. 4, offers good and bad news for NASA. It includes $4 billion for “repair, recapitalization, and modernization of physical infrastructure and facilities” across the agency. The bill does not assign amounts to specific projects or centers.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson had made funding for agency infrastructure a priority in any budget reconciliation package, seeking more than $5 billion earlier this year. “There’s aging infrastructure that is dilapidated,” he told House appropriators in May. “They’ve got holes in the roof where they’re putting together the core of the SLS” at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. Michoud suffered additional damage from Hurricane Ida last month.

However, the draft bill includes nothing for the other priority identified by Nelson, the agency’s Human Landing System (HLS) program. Nelson said in May he wanted $5.4 billion for HLS to allow NASA to select a second company alongside SpaceX to develop and demonstrate a lander capable of transporting astronauts to and from the lunar surface.

Congratulations America! This is the Congress we have voted for. They want a space agency tasked with finding ways to explore the solar system but will only fund the “repair, recapitalization, and modernization of physical infrastructure and facilities” on Earth.

In other words, NASA will have gold-plated buildings in which they will be able to do nothing but shuffle paper because Congress has given them no funding to fly anything in space.

What a joke. But then, as I said, this is the Congress Americans have chosen, so that means not only is Congress a joke, so are the American people.

Caving in remote Nevada

I am leaving today for a four day caving expedition in the remote mountains of Nevada. Thus, there will be little added to the webpage until I return late Monday. I will also not be around to moderate comments. For those new people who post comments please forgive me. Be patient. I will get to it when I get home.

I hope my readers have a great Labor Day weekend. Get out, see friends, go sightseeing, have a great time to celebrate the end of summer. And above all, don’t do what the CDC is demanding, to stay home if you are not vaccinated and even if you are, to wear a mask, maybe two or three, all the time, even when outdoors by yourself. Ignore such idiocy.

Use your common sense instead. Be brave. Be free. And above all, pursue your happiness fully, with joy.

House committee votes to postpone move of Space Force HQ to Alabama

The House Armed Services committee voted yesterday to postpone the proposed establishment of the Space Force’s headquarters in Alabama.

The House Armed Services Committee on Thursday passed, with bipartisan agreement, Colorado Springs U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn’s amendment to the Fiscal Year 2022’s National Defense Authorization Act — an amendment that would prevent the move of the command to Huntsville, Ala., and work leading up to it, until after the Government Accountability Office and the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General complete their reviews of the decision.

Results of the GAO review, currently underway, are expected to be released in March, Chuck Young, managing director of public affairs for the agency, told The Gazette on Thursday.

This congressional action is not a surprise. The vested interests in Colorado, where a great bulk of the present military space operations are based, were not going to take the shift to Alabama lying down.

Posted still driving north to Las Vegas. (Don’t worry, I’m not doing the driving.)

Perseverance’s 2nd drill attempt to get sample appears successful

It appears that Perseverance’s second drill attempt on Mars has successfully obtained sample material in its core.

Data received late Sept. 1 from NASA’s Perseverance rover indicate the team has achieved its goal of successfully coring a Mars rock. The initial images downlinked after the historic event show an intact sample present in the tube after coring. However, additional images taken after the arm completed sample acquisition were inconclusive due to poor sunlight conditions. Another round of images with better lighting will be taken before the sample processing continues.

Once they know for sure if they have a sample, they will store it and then move on, heading to the area that Ingenuity scouted for them in mid-August.

Posted halfway to Las Vegas.

FAA grounds Virgin Galactic pending investigationn

Probably in response to the revelation of the flight issue, not an actual safety issue, the FAA has grounded Virgin Galactic from any further flights pending the resolution of the investigation of the July flight, which drifted out of its planned flight path due to high winds.

This will likely delay their planned next manned flight, which had been tentatively scheduled for September-October.

Posted on the way to Nevada.

Today’s blacklisted American: Whites to be segregated at American University

The Civil Rights Act of 1964: repealed at American University in DC.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964: Doesn’t exist at American University in DC.

“Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!” American University in Washington, D.C., has now instituted a policy segregating students by race in a course on racism, with the segregation specifically designed to give minorities a “safe space.”

According to The Eagle, the university added a Black affinity course section to AUx2, a class where students learn about “race, social identity, and structures of power.” In the course, students will “evaluate how racism intersects with other systems of oppression.”

The student newspaper states that all-Black sections of the course began during the spring 2020 semester, an addition that had been considered for a few years. “We’ve definitely heard from Black students and other students of color that the material can be a lot for them because it is part of their lived experiences,” Izzi Stern, the AUx program manager told the student newspaper. “And we wanted to create a space where they could be together in community and have an overall positive experience with the course.”

» Read more

The problem Starship poses to NASA and Congress

An interesting essay published earlier this week in The Space Review raises the coming dilemma that both NASA and Congress will soon have to face once Starship is operational and launching large cargoes and crews to orbit, both near Earth and to the Moon.

That dilemma: What do about SLS and Lunar Gateway once it becomes ridiculously obvious that they are inferior vessels for future space travel?

I think this quote from the article more than any illustrates the reality that these government officials will soon have to deal with in some manner:

[When] the Lunar Starship ever docks with Gateway, the size comparison with Gateway will appear silly and beg the question as to whether Gateway is actually necessary. Does this even make sense? Couldn’t two Starships simply dock with each other and transfer propellant from one to another. Is there really a need for a middleman?

The author, Doug Plata, also notes other contrasts that will make SLS and Lunar Gateway look absurd, such as when two Starships begin transferring fuel in orbit or when a Starship launches 400 satellites in one go, or when a private Starship mission circles the Moon and returns to Earth for later reuse.

All of these scenarios are actually being planned, with the first something NASA itself is paying for, since the lunar landing Starship will dock with Lunar Gateway to pick up and drop off its passengers for the Moon.

The bottom line for Plata is that the federal government needs to stop wasting money on bad programs like SLS and Lunar Gateway and switch its focus to buying products from commercial sources like SpaceX. They will get far more bang for the buck, while actually getting something accomplished in space.

Though he uses different words, and has the advantage of recent events to reference, Plata is essentially repeating my recommendations from my 2017 policy paper, Capitalism in Space [free pdf]. Plata draws as his proof for his argument the recent developments with Starship. I drew as my proof a comparison between SLS and what private commercial space was doing for NASA, as starkly illustrated by this one table:

The cost difference between SLS and private space

The government has got to stop trying to build things, as it does an abysmal job. It instead must buy what it needs from private commercial vendors who know how to do it and have proven they can do it well.

If the government does this, will not only save money, it will fuel an American renaissance in space. As we see already beginning to see happen now in rocketry and the unmanned lunar landing business.

Firefly first launch attempt fails after liftoff, shortly before stage separation

Alpha rocket exploding
Screen capture from Everyday Astronaut live stream.

Capitalism in space: Firefly’s first attempt to launch its Alpha rocket to orbit failed at T+2:30 minutes, shortly after it went supersonic and just before first stage engine cut-off and stage separation.

The screen capture to the right shows that explosion.

Lift-off procedures went very well, though the rocket itself appeared to reach supersonic speeds later than their timeline predicted, suggesting it was underpowered.

In fact, the whole operation reminded me of SpaceX’s early attempts to launch its Falcon-1 rocket. Just as happened in one of those early SpaceX launches, there was a launch abort at liftoff, the launch team quickly figured out what happened, recycled the rocket, and successfully lifted off an hour later. Kudos to that team!

The failure is unfortunate, but to repeat the cliche, this is rocket science. They will try again.

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