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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

Toyota cars did not have a sudden acceleration problem

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has found that all but one of the approximately 3000 incidents of out-of-control acceleration involving Toyota vehicles were because of driver error, not mechanical problems. In other words, the accusations that there was something fundamentally wrong with the Toyota vehicles was false.

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

Draft version of Senate NASA budget released

A draft version of Senate’s NASA budget has been released. More commentary to come.

Update. From what I can tell by a quick scan through the actual proposed legislation [pdf], the Senate will give the administration most of the money it wants for commercial space, but also demand that it start work on a heavy-lift replacement of the shuttle immediately, including the full size version of the Orion capsule. However, the language requiring this latter action is very vague (“as soon as possible after the date of the enactment of this act”) and leaves the administration a great deal of wiggle room. From my experience, this means that Congress is trying to create the illusion that it has done something, but is basically leaving the decisions to the administration.

The draft language does forbid any contracts being issued for any new private commercial crew services until the 2012 year, which suggests that Congress wants NASA to focus on the Orion capsule and heavy lift option first. However, to me this merely means the Obama administration is being given the option to stall for a year and then come back again later with the same proposals it offered back in February of this year. That the draft legislation also gives NASA 120 days to put together its plan for its heavy-lift program only increases my doubts about Congress’s seriousness.

Overall, this legislation only confirms my worst fears. If passed as is, both the new private commercial space ventures as well as the government space program will suffer.

Greenland icecap is not melting

Steve Goddard has posted on Anthony Watt’s webpage a very detailed update on the state of the icecap covering Greenland. Surprise! There are no signs of it disappearing anytime soon. (Note that you might have to scroll to the right to see the text of Goddard’s post, as on some computers Watts’s webpage is unfortunately far too wide for the screen.)

Arrested for handing out Bibles

More so-called tolerance from Islam, this time helped by the secular authorities in Deerborn, Michigan. Four men were arrested and charged with misdemeanor charges because they stood on a public street and offered the gospel of St. John to passersby. The news article states the following:

The behavior of these individuals drew and incited a large crowd to a point where they were in violation of city ordinances, including breach of peace and failure to obey the lawful order of a police officer, according to the city’s public relations department. . . . Festival rules require religious groups to distribute information at paid booths or outside the event.

However, the video below paints a very different picture. It appears that at least two of the men were on public property, just outside the festival and no crowd appeared (except for a lot of cops). I find it especially disgusting how the cops force them to stop filming the event.

Update: In restrospective, it is very possible the video below was not shot at the same time the men were arrested. Even so, if the court documents do describe the events accurately, there is something disturbing about the response of the people at the Islamic festival. Why should they be so offended, almost to the point of violence, merely because others are passing out Christian literature? Moreover, the video below still shows a clear violation of the Christian activists’ freedom of speech and assembly, since they were standing on public property and had not caused any disturbances when the police moved in to harass them.

There simply is no money for NASA

All the discussion about the future of NASA must be put in some fiscal context, and here it is: the Debt and Deficit Commission that the Obama administration created to review the spending problems of the federal government has some bad news: there literally is no money for anything but Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Key quote from the Washington Post article:

The commission leaders said that, at present, federal revenue is fully consumed by three programs: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. “The rest of the federal government, including fighting two wars, homeland security, education, art, culture, you name it, veterans — the whole rest of the discretionary budget is being financed by China and other countries,” Simpson said.

Boulder tracks on Mars

Here’s a nice picture from the HiRISE camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, released July 7, showing the boulder tracks left by rocks bouncing down the escarpment of Kasei Valles in the low gravity of Mars. Fun quote:

Some of these blocks traveled downhill several hundred meters (yards) as they rolled and bounced, leaving behind a trail of indentations or poke marks in the surface’s fine-grained, light-toned soils. The raised borders in some of these poke marks indicate they are relatively recent features, unaffected by wind erosion, or that this soil has cohesive properties, such as if it was cemented.

Boulder tracks on Mars

The state of the polar ice caps, June 2010

On July 6, the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) of the University of Colorado published its monthly report on the state of the polar ice caps. The Arctic ice cap, which this winter had been larger and more extensive than seen for many years, also shrank this spring at the fastest rate in years. (This chart, produced by data from the Japanese AMSR instruments on two research satellites, shows these trends very clearly.) Meanwhile, NSIDC reports that the ice cap in Antarctica is far larger than normal. Not unexpectedly, NSIDC immediately argues (quite unconvincingly if you ask me) that more ice in Antarctica is evidence for global warming.

From my perspective, the data continues to be inconclusive. We still do not really understand the long term trends of the Earth’s climate.

Jeff Foust analysis of the New Space business

Jeff Foust of the Space Review has written an excellent analysis today explaining why some new space companies have succeeded (SpaceX) and some have failed (Rocketplane). Key quote:

If your business plan requires hundreds of millions of dollars of investment, and your founders don’t have that money available themselves, it may be wise to reconsider that plan in favor of an effort that can bootstrap itself with much less funding.

Julie and Dick at Covent Garden

An evening pause: In a previous post, I described how I have always felt that Julie Andrews’ incredible screen presence was only rarely taken full advantage of during her career. In Mary Poppins — one the films that did showcase her wonderfully, Andrews’ co-star was Dick van Dyke, an amazing talent in his own right. For that film, Andrews and van Dyke had a chemistry that was riveting. In an earlier movie era, the studios would have taken advantage of that chemistry and cast them together again and again, much as Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn were repeatedly cast together throughout the 1940s and 1950s. Unfortunately, by the 1960s the studio system was dead and such casting was impossible, and Andrews and van Dyke have never again appeared on the big screen together.

However, in 1974 they did do a television variety show special together, Julie and Dick in Covent Garden. One particular skit from that show not only demonstrated vividly the chemistry between Andrews and van Dyke and how we had lost something precious by not having them appear together in many films, the skit’s story itself illustrated in a most ironic manner these lost opportunities of life. Enjoy.

Caving July 10, 2010

I was out in West Virginia this weekend for the monthly gathering of the Germany Valley Karst Survey. This project has discovered and mapped more than 37 miles of virgin cave passage in West Virginia in the past eight years. For the last two years I, along with about a dozen other project members, have been focused on a dig in a small cave that has the potential to break out into a lot of virgin passage. Below are two pictures taken by fellow caver Daniel Martinez, the first showing me at the cave entrance and the second showing my feet as crawl in.

At the entrance

entering the cave

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