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.

Knowledge or Certainty

An evening pause: One of the best television science series ever produced was The Ascent of Man by Jacob Bronowski. Rather than simply describe science and knowledge, Bronowski instead pondered the nature of humanity. The best episode of the series was Knowledge or Certainty, in which Bronowski compared the humane uncertainty of science with the terrible consequences of dogma. As Oliver Cromwell said, “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.”

Regular readers can support Behind The Black with a contribution via Paypal or Patreon. To use Patreon, go to my website there and pick one of five monthly subscription amounts, or by making a one-time donation. Or you subscribe or donate using PayPal as follows:

 
 
 

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Behind The Black
c/o Robert Zimmerman
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Or you can donate by using Zelle through your bank. You will need to give my name and email address (found at the bottom of the "About" page). The best part of this electronic option is that no fees will be deducted! What you donate will be what I receive.

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

Gender politics at NASA

O joy! It’s time to favor gender over achievement at NASA. The Obama administration is considering using governmental authority at NASA and other agencies to guarantee that the same number of women receive science, technology, engineering, and math degrees as men. The actual White House statement emphasizes the need “to ensure equity in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education programs.” [emphasis mine].

If you want to be really annoyed, download NASA’s Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity documentation [pdf] and read how institutions are expected to do “periodic reviews of data broken down by gender. . . to ensure program policies and practices are not having a negative impact on program participation.” [page 5]

In other words, NASA should decide whether to provide education funds to universities, based not on the ability of those universities produce qualified engineers and scientists of any sex but on the number of women in their programs.

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

New plan from the Senate

This analysis of the Senate budget plan that passed the Senate Commerce committee today hits all the most important points. Key quote (in connection with the Senate’s mandate that NASA start over in building a new heavy lift rocket):

Over the last five years, Constellation has cost at least $9 billion and produced little more than one test flight for a stripped-down version of the program’s Ares I rocket. While the Senate plan instructs NASA to salvage parts of Constellation when possible – and provides $11 billion over the next several years — it will take time and resources to create a new design. Adding to the pressure is the 2016 deadline that Congress gives NASA to have the new vehicle ready.

More cave images from the Moon

James Fincannon of NASA has forwarded me two additional pictures of the same cave on the Moon, taken recently at different times by the camera on Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and made available by the Goddard Space Flight Center and Arizona State University.

two images of the same pit

These images clearly show that the skylight looks down into a much larger space, with the underground room belling out from the skylight in all directions. This can be seen by how the angle of sunlight hitting the floor of the cave changes over time. Below is a very crude cartoon I have drawn to illustrate what I think we are seeing in the image on the left. The dashed lines indicate unseen walls whose precise location is not yet determined.

cartoon

James also forwarded me this link, showing even more images of additional lava tube skylights on the Moon.

Why I don’t watch television news

This story illustrates nicely why no one should trust the reliablity of any news reporting they see on television or cable. Key quote:

Back in late-1989, I contended that the U.S. economy was in or headed into a deep recession. CNBC had me in to discuss my views along with a senior economist for a large New York bank, who was looking for continued economic growth. Before the show, the bank economist and I shared our views in the Green Room. I outlined my case for a major recession, and, to my shock, his response was, “I think that pretty much is the consensus.” We got on the air, I gave my recession pitch, and he proclaimed a booming economy for the year ahead. He was a good economist and knew what was happening, but he had to put out the story mandated by his employer, or he would not have had a job.

More recently, following an interview on a major cable news network (not CNBC), I was advised off-air by the producer that they were operating under a corporate mandate to give the economic news a positive spin, irrespective of how bad it was.” And now you know that watching stations like CNBC for anything more than just comedic value is hazardous to your health and wealth.

The failure of the political class

Yesterday Clark Lindsey of rlvnews.com noted that my essay “You’ve got to play the game” appears to “blame the Administration solely for its problems in reforming NASA.” This is not entirely correct. My essay yesterday was specifically intended to lay out the errors and faults of Obama and his administration in their efforts to change NASA. Its purpose was not to discuss the foolishnesses of Congress, the stupidity of which I think everyone is very much aware.

However, Clark is correct when he notes that when it comes to this space war over NASA’s future, Congress is as much at fault as Obama. They are micromanaging NASA’s program in ways that can do little good for the future. Worse, they have shown a greater interest in maintaining pork barrel spending than funding NASA intelligently.

All in all, we have here a complete failure of the political class. I really do hate to sound pessimistic, but for NASA’s near term future, I honestly do not expect positive things to come from the compromise deal that Congress and the President now seem willing to agree to.

You’ve got to play the game

The release of the Senate’s draft language for NASA’s 2011 budget yesterday reveals a great deal about the failures of the Obama administration. Despite months of advocacy by administration officials as well as the upper management of NASA, it appears that the Senate (soon to be followed in a similar manner by the House) is eagerly willing to dismantle much of what the Obama administration is proposing for NASA, and is going to micromanage its own space program.

Why this happened is all very simple: You’ve got to play the game.

If you are going to request major changes to any government program that requires the approval of elected officials beholden to the people in their districts, you have to provide those elected officials some cover for their actions. You simply can’t shutdown these programs willy-nilly without any negotiation and expect members of Congress to go along — even if what you propose is a good idea and makes sense.

Unfortunately, this is exactly what the Obama administration has done. They have not only shown an astonishing incompetence at playing the political game, they have often acted as if politics is completely irrelevant to their needs, a position that is both stupid and counter-productive considering that Obama is a politician who has to get the agreement of the politicians in Congress. » Read more

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.

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.

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