Conscious Choice cover

Now available in hardback and paperback as well as ebook!


From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.


“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.


All editions available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all book vendors. The ebook can be purchased direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit, in which case you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner. Note that the ebook is still for sale for $3.99, but that price will go up to $5.99 on September 1, 2022.


Autographed printed copies are also available at discount directly from me (hardback $24.95; paperback $14.95). Just email me at zimmerman @ nasw dot org.

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.

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

The future Nemesis from space

From the American Astronomical Society meeting this week:

A team of astronomers, using the data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, calculated the galactic orbits of nearly 40,000 low mass stars. These stars are generally M dwarfs, cool, not very bright, and thus generally somewhat close to the Sun since if they are too far away we would not see them. You can read the abstract here, and download their full poster here [pdf].

For the astronomers, the data told them a great deal about the orbital properties of these stars. Though a majority are in circular orbits between 20 to 30 thousand light years from the galactic center, a small minority are in extremely eccentric orbits that travel far out into the galactic halo, as much 260,000 light years. A few others dive inward, getting within 6000 light years of the galactic center.

What made this poster stand out to me, however, was this quote from the abstract:

In addition, we have identified a number of stars that will pass very close to the Sun within the next [billion years]. These stars form the “Nemesis” family of orbits. Potential encounters with these stars could have a significant impact on orbits of Oort Cloud and Kuiper Belt members as well as the planets. We comment on the probability of a catastrophic encounter within the next [billion years].

All told, they found that 18 low-mass cool M dwarf stars that will eventually pass close to the Sun. One star, SDSS J112612.07+152517.6, an M3 star that is about 2,300 light years away, is in an orbit that has it moving right towards us at about 90,000 miles per hour. Its mass is less than half that of the Sun, about 0.4 solar masses. This figure from the poster roughly illustrates the star’s position relative to our solar system over the next billion years:

Nemesis star

The star itself is shown in the inset. The red curve shows its calculated distance from the Sun over time, with the black area above and below showing the uncertainties of the calculation. As you can see, every hundred million years or so the distance between this star and the Sun shrinks, with the very very very rare possibility that the distance will sometimes shrink to zero!

With 18 stars each doing this every few 100 million years or so, the average time between close approaches is about 5 million years. These results suggest that another star passes close enough to our solar system frequently enough to not only disturb the comets in the Oort cloud, but also possibly affect the orbits of the planets in the outer solar system and Kuiper belt. One wonders, for example, if such an event had some influence on Pluto’s strange orbit.

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

New TSA Scanner Procedure Is Dumb in a New Way

The new TSA scanner procedure: Dumb in a new way. The quote below actually isn’t the point of the article (which notes other idiotic things about TSA procedures), but I found it telling nonetheless:

For the most part, it has been possible to avoid the scanners just by picking the right line to stand in, which I assume means that the government has determined that terrorists have poor line-picking skills.

Bad news for NASA, good news for private space

Earlier this week NASA submitted a report to Congress reviewing the design and construction status of the heavy-lift rocket and manned capsule that Congress has required them to build and launch by 2016. NASA’s conclusion: the space agency doesn’t think it can do the job in the schedule or budget that Congress has provided.

NASA does not believe this goal is achievable based on a combination of the current funding profile estimate, traditional approaches to acquisitions and currently considered vehicle architectures. . . . We will not commit to a date that has a low probability of being achieved.

NASA’s conclusions here are not surprising. The agency had been having trouble building Constellation on the much bigger budget and longer schedule given to them by past Congresses. For them to build the-program-formerly-called-Constellation for less money and in less time is probably impossible.

Nonetheless, this was the response of the Senate Commerce committee:

The production of a heavy-lift rocket and capsule is not optional. It’s the law.

This is why I have been saying that the money for this program is nothing more than pork. Congress knows that nothing can be built on this budget, but wants the money spent nonetheless, to keep people employed in their districts.

Meanwhile, in sharp contrast, Space Adventures yesterday announced a new deal with Russia, whereby the Russians have agreed to build and launch one extra Soyuz capsule per year, beginning in 2013, to fly 3 tourists to ISS. In addition, there is this report today about how SpaceX is successfully meeting all its milestones in building its cargo ferry for ISS. An earlier report last week also noted how Orbital Sciences is also moving forward with its cargo ferry, with a planned first test launch by the end of 2011.

All in all, this news is not good news for NASA. The space agency’s manned spaceflight program appears to have two futures, neither of which will involve it continuing to build rockets or fly humans into space. In one option, the new Congress, when it finally sits down to write a budget, will decide that pork and happy constituents are more important than a balanced budget, and will appropriate the money for the-program-formerly-called-Constellation. NASA will struggle hard to build it, but will not succeed. Thus, no government-built manned space program.

In the second option, Congress will agree with me and decide that it just doesn’t have money for pork, especially considering the terrible state of the federal budget. Moreover, seeing the success of the private efforts of SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, and Space Adventures, Congress will wonder why it needs to pour more billions into a vain effort by NASA to build something it can’t, when there are other private companies that can do it, and do it for less. In this circumstance, it will be very easy for them to cut the-program-formerly-called-Constellation. Once again, no NASA manned program.

Neither scenario is actually a bad thing. What we are actually seeing play out here is the free competition of different companies attempting to provide a service to a customer, and the customer eventually picking the best company from which to buy the product. NASA, as a government agency, simply can’t compete, and unless Congress decides to provide them welfare, will lose this competition hands down.

The U.S. will still have the capability of getting into space, but for far less money. And having multiple private companies competing to provide this service will also encourage innovation, something the rocket industry has sorely needed these past five decades.

Giant black holes

From the AAS meeting, the black hole press conference!

  • Scientists, using the Gemini telescope at Mauna Kea in Hawaii, have measured the mass of the supermassive black hole in the center of the galaxy M87, and found its mass equals 6.6 billion suns, far larger than expected. They also estimate that the event horizon of this gigantic black hole is so large our entire solar system would fit inside it.
  • Other scientists have found that the total mass of M87 is more than 5 trillion suns, about 60 percent higher than earlier investigations estimated. This makes M87 one of the most massive galaxies known. In addition, more than 80 percent of that mass is contained with the galaxy’s dark matter halo.
  • In other research, astronomers have located 16 close binary pairs of supermassive black holes hidden in the nuclei of the galaxies. Scientists have long believed that the merger of smaller orbiting supermassive black holes helps form bigger supermassive black holes we see, but until this discovery, almost no close binary pairs had been located. Of these 16 binaries, all show signs that they are spiraling into towards each other, and will crash together in several millions of years.

Penguin tracking bands do harm

The bands that scientists attach to penguins to track them actually do harm. The data also suggests that certain climate research might also be skewed because of this. Key quote:

Overall, the team found, bands were bad for penguins. Banded penguins had a 16% lower survival rate than unbanded birds over the 10 years, the researchers report online today in Nature. Banded birds also arrived later at the breeding grounds and took longer trips to forage for food. As a result, they produced 39% fewer chicks. . . . [The researcher noted] that his team’s results suggest that research using banded penguins may be biased. For example, he says, several high-profile studies have used banded penguins to investigate the impact of climate change on the birds. The findings of those studies aren’t necessarily wrong, but the numbers need to be reconsidered, he says.

A new deal to fly tourists to ISS using Russian Soyuz capsules

A new deal has been announced to fly tourists to ISS using Russian Soyuz capsules. According the arrangement between Space Adventures and the Federal Space Agency of the Russian Federation (FSA) and Rocket Space Corporation Energia (RSC Energia), three seats will be made available on Soyuz spacecraft bound for the International Space Station (ISS), beginning in 2013.

These seats will be made available through the increase of Soyuz production, from four to five spacecraft per year. Each flight will be short duration, approximately 10 days, and will contribute to the increase of launch capacity to the ISS.

The uncertainty of astronomical science

From today’s first press conference at the AAS meeting, astronomers have found that two of the fundamental objects they use as units of measure might not be as reliable a unit of measure as they thought.

  • Astronomers have discovered that the Cepheid variable stars that they use to estimate the distances to the nearest galaxies are not necessarily the stars they thought. At least two Cepheids, which are variable stars, do not pulse reliably (one actually stopped pulsing entirely). Another is surrounded by a previously unknown nebula cloud, which affects its apparent brightness, an essential data-point when using these stars as a measuring tool. Here’s one press release.
  • The Crab Nebula threw out some gigantic gamma ray bursts last fall. In addition, astronomers have found that the nebula actually flickers wildly, and is also changing in gamma ray energy output over the long term, declining by seven percent in the last two years. No one yet knows what exactly causes these different variations. Like Cepheids, the Crab has been used as a standard for measuring the energy of astronomical gamma ray objects. This is no longer reliable. Here’s one press release, plus images.

It’s time the left toned down its rhetoric

Look, I agree that we’ve got to tone down the rhetoric. And I also agree that conservatives bear as much responsibility to do this as anyone. Free debate in a civilized society requires reasoned discussion of the issues, and a willingness to tolerate disagreement. It should not include ad hominen attacks, or the wishful desire to murder your opponents.

However, it is not the tone of rightwing discourse that worries me much these days. You would be hard pressed to find any examples of any Republicans or Tea Party activists suggesting it would a good thing to kill Democrats. Such suggestions are not only considered unacceptable, everyone on the right knows that to say such a thing would probably destroy your career in the public arena. Thus, it just doesn’t happen.

Instead, it is the left, the press, and the Democratic Party’s efforts to whip up anger at the right that scares me. Nor did this ugly behavior begin on Saturday after the Tucson murders. In the past decade there have been the numerous examples (which I have been documenting these past few days) of leftwing activists, Hollywood movies, talk radio hosts, and Democratic officials advocating violence against the right. (For a talk radio host example, see this new list of liberals calling for the murder of conservatives.) Worse, such behavior has almost become routine in recent years. It seems that every random violent act has become a vehicle for the left and the press to attack and slander conservatives, despite the fact that there is no evidence that any of these accusations are true.

This behavior must stop. Violent and angry rhetoric can and will cause violence. And it probably has, considering the fact that a large number of the random violent acts in recent years have actually been committed by deranged individuals with liberal, not conservative, leanings. This is not to say that I blame the left for this violence, but that the left has as much of a responsibility as the right to think carefully about what it says, before it says it. Otherwise, they might find that they have made their less rational followers more angry than they ever imagined, or can control.

Or as Michael York says to his NAZI friend at the end of this scene from the 1972 movie, Cabaret. “You still think you can control them?”

NASA submits its Heavy Lift rocket proposal to Congress

NASA has submitted its Heavy Lift rocket proposal to Congress. However, NASA also noted bluntly that:

“Neither Reference Vehicle Design currently fits the projected budget profiles nor schedule goals outlined in the Authorization Act.”

In other words, they can’t build it for the money or in the timeframe they’ve been given by Congress.

Didn’t someone say this already? Several times?

The climax to The Roaring Twenties

An evening pause: The Roaring Twenties (1939). Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney were often cast as gangsters. However, their film personas’ were very different. Bogart’s characters generally showed a trace of weakness in his soul, while Cagney’s characters were rock solid no matter how much things fell apart. The finale of this classic Hollywood film, in which each man dies, illustrates this difference quite starkly.

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