Soyuz 4: first manned space docking

Soyuz 4With only cosmonaut Vladimir Shatalov aboard, the Soviet Union launches Soyuz 4 into Earth orbit. Another manned vehicle, Soyuz 5, is launched the next day, and the two vehicles dock in orbit, the first docking of two manned spacecraft. Alexei Yeliseyev and Yevgeny Khrunov perform a spacewalk to leave Soyuz 5 and board Soyuz 4 for the return home (though the two capsules have primitive docking hardware, they do not have a docking tunnel or airlocks). Soyuz 4 makes a safe landing after two days in orbit – which is more than can be said for its sister ship.

Soyuz 5: almost another space disaster

Soyuz 5The Soviet Union launches a three-man crew aboard Soyuz 5, which docks in orbit with the already-launched Soyuz 4 – the first two crewed spacecraft to accomplish this feat. The Soyuz 5 crew consists of cosmonauts Boris Volynov, Alexei Yeliseyev and Yevgeny Khrunov, but only Volynov makes the return journey aboard Soyuz 5, as his crewmates board Soyuz 4 via spacewalk. It’s probably just as well for them: after three days in orbit, Soyuz 5 begins its descent to Earth, but the failure of explosive bolts meant to separate the re-entry capsule from the rest of the vehicle fail. To maintain some semblence of a survivable aerodynamic profile, Volynov flies Soyuz 5 in nose-first – one of the riskiest re-entries in the history of human spaceflight, since the nose of the capsule is not covered by any heat shielding. The vehicle separates just before the stress of re-entry would have destroyed it, but then its parachutes fail to completely deploy, resulting in a punishingly jarring but non-fatal landing, hard enough to break Volynov’s teeth.

Similar malfunctions will plague a pair of Soyuz vehicles returning from the International Space Station in 2007. Soyuz 5 is the final crewed Soviet flight prior to the moon landing.

Trashing the TARDIS

Doctor WhoThe BBC archives erase dozens more episodes of Doctor Who due to an ongoing space crunch and an impending change of video standard from 405-line PAL to 625-line PAL. Whereas the first round of tape-wiping in 1967 was targeted at episodes involving the first Doctor, this round marks episodes featuring the current Doctor, Patrick Troughton, for deletion. The fourth episode of The Tenth Planet – Hartnell’s swan song in the role of the Doctor – is erased at this time, as well as a curious scattershot selection of Troughton episodes.

The Enterprise runs aground

Star TrekNBC announces that it is dropping Star Trek from the fall 1969 network schedule. Having taken the show’s Friday night “death slot” as a sign of things to come, Gene Roddenberry has already begun seeking greener pastures, leaving the day-to-day showrunner duties to Fred Freiberger. Roddenberry also has no plans to manipulate fan protests against the cancellation this time (as he had done in 1967 and 1968); some NBC publicity and promotions executives are surprised when the seemingly inevitable backlash fails to materialize.

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N1 Flight #1

N1The gigantic Soviet-made N1 rocket, Sergei Korolev’s answer to the American Saturn V launcher, lifts off for the first time with an unmanned Zond spacecraft intended for a lunar flyby. Barely 70 seconds after leaving the pad, the N1 explodes at an altitude of seven miles, but the Zond space probe is salvaged by its escape tower rockets. The Soviet Union is no closer to safely sending a crew of cosmonauts to the moon.

Apollo 9

Apollo 9Apollo 9 lifts off on a ten-day mission to test the first lunar lander, but only in Earth orbit. Jim McDivitt and Rusty Schweickart put the lunar module, nicknamed Spider, through its paces, while David Scott mans the command module Gumdrop. This is the first flight of the completely non-aerodynamic lunar module, and various docking maneuvers and spacewalk scenarios are practiced. The crew returns to Earth in the Apollo command module, while Spider is left in a low orbit which decays two weeks later, allowing it to disintegrate in Earth’s atmosphere.

This mission is dramatized in the Spider episode of HBO’s 1998 series From The Earth To The Moon.

Star Trek: from cancellation to syndication

Star TrekHaving completed its purchase of Desilu Studios, Paramount runs the first print advertisement in Vol. 76, Issue 12 of Broadcasting Magazine, offering Star Trek reruns in syndication. Even though the last episode has yet to air on NBC, it is perhaps telling that the ad promises a set number of “79 episodes of constant quality, now being seen in over 65 countries around the world” – confirmation that there will be no further episodes beyond the current season.

More about Star Trek in the LogBook

Mariner 7 launched

Mariner 7NASA and JPL launch the unmanned Mariner 7 space probe on a mission to Mars, where it will be joined by its recently-launched identical twin, Mariner 6. Mariner 7 will take five months to reach the red planet, but on a slightly faster trajectory it will arrive just days behind Mariner 6. Both will fly past Mars twice as close as the planet’s previous unmanned visitors.