Surveyor

SurveyorNASA begins soliciting studies from contractors for an unmanned robotic spacecraft to land on the moon. Intended to carry scientific instruments and television cameras to examine the moon from ground-level, the Surveyor landers are intended to reap their own benefit in the form of scientific data, but they will also serve as advanced scouting support missions for possible later manned landings on the moon.

Gravitational assist

Mike MinovitchRecent Jet Propulsion Laboratory hire Michael Minovitch submits the first of a series of papers and technical memorandums on the possibility of using carefully-calculated gravitational assist maneuvers to speed transit time between celestial bodies while requiring minimal engine/fuel use. Where most previous scientific thought concentrated on using engine burns (and a lot of fuel) to cancel the effects of a planet’s gravity, Minovitch demonstrated that gravity could be a big help with a carefully calculated trajectory. Though nearly every planetary mission since then has capitalized on Minovitch’s research, it was initially rejected by JPL. Minovitch’s calculations are later revisited by Caltech grad student Gary Flandro, who flags down a particular combination of Minovitch’s pre-computed trajectories for a “grand tour” of the outer solar system, a mission which will eventually be known – in a somewhat scaled-down, less grand form – as Voyager.

The Sky(lab) is falling

SkylabAfter intense solar activity results in a brief swelling of Earth’s atmosphere, Skylab‘s days are numbered: it has already been slowed enough by contact with the outermost layers of the atmosphere to come tumbling back to Earth. Unoccupied since 1974, the now-derelict space station is expected to disintegrate harmlessly over the Indian Ocean, but NASA is caught off-guard when unexpectedly large chunks of Skylab survive long enough to crash into the Australian outback. No one on the ground is hurt, and NASA is jokingly fined for littering.

Werewolf

WerewolfThe first episode of Werewolf airs on the recently-launched Fox Network, the first genre series in the new network’s three-month history. Created by Frank Lupo (The A-Team, Hunter), the series stars John J. York and Lance LeGault, with guest appearances by Chuck Connors (The Rifleman), Ethan Phillips (Benson, Star Trek: Voyager), Michelle Johnson (Blame It On Rio), and Raphael Sbarge (Once Upon A Time, Star Trek: Voyager).

More about Werewolf in the LogBook

Game over for Coleco

ColecovisionHaving weathered the storm of the 1983 video game industry crash longer than most, Coleco Industries, maker of the early ’80s Colecovision video game system, files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. At the time of the filing, Coleco is America’s sixth largest toy company, but the video game industry isn’t its downfall. Overproduction of the company’s Cabbage Patch Kids toys has proven to be fatal, with two straight years of annual losses exceeding $100,000,000. The remains of Coleco are eventually bought up by rival toymaker Hasbro.

More about Colecovision in Phosphor Dot Fossils

Babylon 5’s next change of command

Babylon 5Actress Claudia Christian, having completed four seasons on the syndicated science fiction series Babylon 5, allows her contract to lapse prior to the start of production on the show’s fifth season (slated to air on cable channel TNT). Within days, rumors circulate on the internet that Christian has been fired from the show, touching off a fandom firestorm. The first scripts for the fifth season are revised accordingly to feature a new character, Captain Elizabeth Lochley, and actress Tracy Scoggins is cast as the new character within weeks. Christian’s appearances in the two upcoming Babylon 5 TV movies (set to premiere in 1998) and the final episode of the series itself (already filmed) are unaffected.

More about Babylon 5 in the LogBook

The raining shards of the blue planet

HD 189733bScientists, analyzing Hubble Space Telescope spectographic data taken during a transit of the exoplanet HD 189733b against its parent star, reveal that they have determined the planet’s color in visible light. The doomed gas giant, only 63 light years away, is said to be a “deep azure blue” not unlike how Earth’s oceans appear from space, though in this case the color is theorized to be the result not of water, but of silicate rain – airborne glass – blowing in 7,000mph winds as the atmosphere is blasted away due to the planet’s proximity to its sun.

Dr. Claudia Alexander, Galileo project manager, dies

Dr. Claudia AlexanderDr. Claudia Alexander dies at the age of 56, while still serving as the chief scientist of a suite of U.S.-provided instruments aboard ESA’s history-making Rosetta mission. Renowned as one of JPL’s finest research scientists, she was a member of the Galileo plasma instrument science team before becoming, by the mission’s end in 2003, the project manager of that mission to Jupiter.

Satoru Iwata, Nintendo CEO, dies

Satoru IwataNintendo of Japan CEO Satoru Iwata dies as a result of complications from gall bladder surgery. As the head of game developer HAL Laboratories, Iwata oversaw games in the Kirby, Super Smash Bros. and Pokemon series, until he replaced outgoing Nintendo CEO Hiroshi Yamauchi in 2002. His tenure saw the introduction of the Nintendo DS handheld, the Wii console, and the wildly popular Amiibo figurines, as well as unprecedented interaction with fans and customers on the internet.