Leaving Earth cover

In March I obtained from my former publisher the last 30 copies of the now out-of-print hardback of Leaving Earth. I quickly sold 10, and with only 20 left in stock I am raising the price. To get your own autographed copy of this rare collector's item please send a $75 check (includes $5 shipping) payable to Robert Zimmerman to

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

I will likely raise the price again when only ten books are left, so buy them now at this price while you still can!

  Also 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.


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

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.

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

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.

Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar below. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.


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

Great Moments In Government “Investment”

Great moments in government “investment”. Key quote:

To turn wood chips into ethanol fuel, George W. Bush’s Department of Energy in February 2007 announced a $76 million grant to Range Fuels for a cutting-edge refinery. A few months later, the refinery opened in the piney woods of Treutlen County, Ga., as the taxpayers of Georgia piled on another $6 million. In 2008, the ethanol plant was the first beneficiary of the Biorefinery Assistance Program, pocketing a loan for $80 million guaranteed by the U.S. taxpayers.

Last month, the refinery closed down, having failed to squeeze even a drop of ethanol out of its pine chips.

That’s $164 million of tax dollars to a company that produced nothing.


The Sun’s continuing wimpiness

Get those winter coats out of storage! Yesterday NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center published its monthly update of the Sun’s sunspot cycle. I’ve posted the newest graph below, showing the continuing slow rise in sunspots (blue/black lines) in comparison with the consensis prediction made by the solar science community in May 2009 (red line).

Though the sunspot count made a slight recovery in January, it was not enough to make up for the plunge in December. Essentially, the Sun continues to act like a sleepy kitten that really doesn’t want to wake up. This suggests that even the newest and wimpiest prediction for the next solar maximum, from solar scientists at the Marshall Space Flight Center, is still overstating the Sun’s upcoming sunspot activity.

In the past a wimpy Sun has been linked to cold weather, for reasons that scientists as yet don’t quiet understand. And this next solar maximum continues to look like the wimpiest in more than 200 years (see the graph on this page)!

January sunspot graph


A fresh perspective from the new chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees National Science Foundation (NSF), NASA, the Department of Energy, and the Department of Commerce

Mo Brooks (R-Alabama), the new chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees National Science Foundation (NSF), NASA, the Department of Energy, and the Department of Commerce, gives his perspective on science and the budget. Two quotes of interest:

Q: Do you believe that federal research should be exempt from a rollback in federal spending to 2008 levels?
Brooks: I would love for that to happen. But we just don’t have the money. … We have no choice but to look at everything. If we don’t balance our budget over a short period of time, the federal government is going to collapse and there won’t be money for any of these things. So if we’re going to save money for research and advancement in science, we’re going to have to get our house in order now.

Q: Do you think the government should increase funding on research once things turn around?
Brooks: Do you mean if the budgetary situation turns around? I don’t see that happening in the next 4 to 5 years. We’ve got a $1.5 trillion budget deficit, and Admiral Mullen, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has declared it the number one security threat to the country. And if our creditors would cut us off, there would be zero money for national defense or NSF or anything else.

Note how the interviewer, from Science, can’t seem to get his head around the idea of budget cuts.

Q: Is human activity causing global warming?
Brooks: That’s a difficult question to answer because I’ve talked to scientists on both sides of the fence, especially at the University of Alabama at Huntsville. Some say yes, and some say no. I’m also old enough to remember when the same left-wing part of our society was creating a global cooling scare in order to generate funds for their pet projects. So 30-some years ago, the big scare was global cooling, and once they drained the government, they shifted to global warming. So I’m approaching the issue with a healthy degree of skepticism. If the evidence is there to prove it, then so be it.


Obama to call for $53 billion in spending for high-speed rail

Obama calls for $53 billion in spending to build more high-speed railroads. Key quote:

An initial $8 billion in spending will be part of the budget plan Obama is set to release Monday. If Congress approves the plan, the money would go toward developing or improving trains that travel up to 250 miles per hour, and connecting existing rail lines to new projects. The White House wouldn’t say where the money for the rest of the program would come from, though it’s likely Obama would seek funding in future budgets or transportation bills.

I hope that the reason the White House couldn’t say where the money would come from is because it simply does not exist, and there is little chance that Congress will appropriate it.


The underground Moon

More images of lunar cave pits have been posted by the scientists of Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). They have also published their first paper [pdf] about these cave pits for the 2011 Lunar and Planetary Science Conference taking place in March. The paper summarizes, with images, what is know about the three pits on the Moon that have each been imaged a number of times at different angles and lighting situations.

Mare Tranquilitatus
» Read more


Are Health-Care Waivers Unconstitutional?

Are the more than 700 waivers to Obamacare that the Obama administration has handed out unconstitutional? The final paragraph sums it up well:

Waivers can be used for good purposes. But since the time of Matthew Paris [around 1251], they have been recognized as a power above the law — a power used by government to co-opt powerful constituencies by freeing them from the law. Like old English kings, the current administration is claiming such a power to decide that some people do not have to follow the law. This is dangerous, above the law, and unauthorized by the Constitution.


Companies team up on new rocket

The competition to build rockets continues to heat up: A U.S. and European partnership is proposing its own new cargo rocket for NASA, using the Ares I first stage and the Ariane 5 second stage. Key quote:

Dubbed Liberty, the launcher looks similar to the Ares I rocket that was being developed for NASA’s Project Constellation, which was cancelled by the Obama Administration. For its first stage it employs the same advanced, five-segment version of the shuttle’s solid rocket booster. But in a move that significantly lowers development costs, the second stage of the rocket is based on the flight-proven core stage of Europe’s Ariane 5 rocket.


The bigotry among social psychologists

The bigotry among social psychologists. Key quote:

Dr. Haidt (pronounced height) told the audience [at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology’s conference] that he had been corresponding with a couple of non-liberal graduate students in social psychology whose experiences reminded him of closeted gay students in the 1980s. He quoted — anonymously — from their e-mails describing how they hid their feelings when colleagues made political small talk and jokes predicated on the assumption that everyone was a liberal.

“I consider myself very middle-of-the-road politically: a social liberal but fiscal conservative. Nonetheless, I avoid the topic of politics around work,” one student wrote. “Given what I’ve read of the literature, I am certain any research I conducted in political psychology would provide contrary findings and, therefore, go unpublished. Although I think I could make a substantial contribution to the knowledge base, and would be excited to do so, I will not.”

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