Atari Video Music: Atari gets groovy

Atari Video MusicAtari gets firmly into the swing of the ’70s with a rare foray into the non-game-related consumer electronics market. Atari Video Music is a device that, when connected to home stereo systems and television sets, displays colorfully trippy random patterns in time with music or any other audio. Some settings, such as sensitivity and randomness, can be set by the user. This bizarre device, a sort of video lava lamp, somehow fails to take off, and Atari goes back to hatching ideas for video games.

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Soviet shuttle startup

BuranFearing that the relatively sleek, aerodynamic design of the still-unflown American Space Shuttle is a hint that the vehicle could see use as an orbital bomber, the Kremlin orders the creation of the Soviet Space Shuttle program, though work on the vehicle, codenamed Buran (“Snowflake”), is primarily a crash program within the country’s defense department rather than the civilian branch of its space program. Within months, it is concluded that Buran will closely copy the American shuttle design due to the soundness of its aerodynamic design.

USSR plans next-generation space station

Buran at MirWith work having started mere days earlier on Buran, a Soviet version of the American space shuttle design, the Soviet Union’s space agency is given new marching orders to create a new generation of space station hardware, based on the experience gained thus far with the four Salyut space stations and their associated Almaz military space hardware. A modular design is chosen, with multiple docking ports and multiple station components launched over a period of time, concepts which will be tested with yet-to-be-launched Salyut stations. Frequently fighting with the Buran shuttle development program for money and resources (despite the fact that the two spacecraft are expected to be compatible), this new station will not be launched until 1986, almost exactly ten years later, at which time it will be known as Mir.

The Uranus Option

VoyagerDespite the fact that a useful – and rare – alignment of the large outer planets will make a “Grand Tour” possible, NASA has only thus far funded a stripped-down version of the ambitious original Grand Tour plan, a pair of Mariner Jupiter/Saturn ’77 unmanned space probes (later renamed Voyager). Jet Propulsion Laboratory admits that scientists and mission planners have drawn up a “Uranus option” to extend the mission of one of the vehicles to reach Uranus four or five years after a Saturn encounter and gravity assist, and are making modifications to one of the vehicles to permit this contingency. (NASA has yet to approve continuing the MJS’77 program long enough to reach Uranus.) Mission planners also admit that a visit to Uranus could give the vehicle another gravity assist toward Neptune, while admitting that the odds of the vehicle surviving a journey to Neptune with its ability to gather images and scientific data intact would require “a miracle.”

The Alan Parsons Project spins Tales

PyramidA group of veteran session musicians working under producer Alan Parsons and songwriter Eric Woolfson releases its debut album, The Alan Parsons Project – Tales Of Mystery And Imagination: Edgar Allan Poe. The “group” becomes known, somewhat unintentionally, as the Alan Parsons Project, though that was intended to be part of the album title. Themed around the works of Poe, the album becomes a prog rock cult classic and sells well enough that Parsons and Woolfson begin planning a more futuristic project…

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Breakout breaks out

BreakoutAtari introduces a new arcade game, Breakout, which takes the play mechanics of Pong, turns them on one side, and turns the game into a single-player endurance trial. Assigned to junior Atari employee Steve Jobs, Breakout is actually completed by Jobs’ friend Steve Wozniak, though the circuitry for the game is redesigned when Atari’s engineers can’t get their heads around Wozniak’s incredibly compact, efficient design, which reduces the number of logic circuits to a bare minimum. Jobs and Wozniak later approach Atari with a design for a personal computer, and are turned down; that design later becomes the first Apple Computer.

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Coleco Telstar

Coleco TelstarColeco, a toy company best known for its air hockey tables, releases its first video game console, the Coleco Telstar. A self-contained unit capable of playing three variants of video tennis, Telstar retails for roughly half the price of Atari’s Pong console, and Coleco sells over a million units of Telstar in various guises and case styles through the end of the decade. In the early 1980s, Coleco begins development of its own programmable, cartridge-based successor to Telstar, which will reach the market in 1982 as Colecovision.

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Fairchild VES: the first video game cartridges

Fairchild Channel FA major breakthrough in an industry that was previously dominated by expensive, bulky consoles that could only play a handful of games each, Fairchild introduces its Video Entertainment System, the first programmable video game system. Though it has several built-in games like its predecessors, the Fairchild system allows owners to add new games by purchasing “Videocarts” – roughly the size of 8-track tapes – containing additional games. Fairchild later renames its VES console Channel F to avoid market confusion with Atari’s VCS (Video Computer System), which doesn’t arrive on the scene until the following year.

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Salyut 5

Salyut 5The Soviet Union launches the two-ton Salyut 5 space station into Earth orbit. Salyut 5 is the final Soviet space station to utilize the Almaz military station architecture originally specified in the 1960s (at which time Almaz was developed to counter the perceived threat from the never-launched American Manned Orbiting Laboratory). The station carries Earth surveillance equipment and a return capsule for later retrieval of experiments and film. Salyut 5 remains in orbit for a little over a year, visited by only two crews.