Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

Star TrekCo-written and directed by William Shatner (whose contract allows him to direct a Star Trek movie since his co-star Leonard Nimoy has done so), Star Trek V: The Final Frontier premieres in theaters to decidedly mixed reviews. This is the first movie featuring the original cast to debut during the run of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and its shaky box office performance ends Harve Bennett’s run as the creative force behind the Star Trek movies.

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Voyager 2 and the lost moon of Neptune

LarissaFirst spotted by Earth-based telescope observations in 1981, Neptune’s fourth-largest natural satellite was so tiny and dark that follow-up observations to confirm the discovery were unsuccessful…at least until Voyager 2 sights it on approach to the eighth planet, finding a tiny moon whose orbit corresponds to the theoretical orbit of the body originally sighted in 1981. In 1991, the International Astronomical Union will name this moon Larissa.

Star Trek: TNG: Shades Of Gray

Star Trek: The Next GenerationThe week-long national syndication window opens for the 47th episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Billed as “something Star Trek has never done before” in advance publicity, the second season finale is a clip show made up primarily of “memories” from older episodes – one last blow to the series from the 1988 Writers’ Guild strike. This marks the final appearance of Diana Muldaur as Dr. Katherine Pulaski, as well as the unforgiving (and apparently spine-damaging) uniforms from the first two seasons. This is also the last episode to feature Maurice Hurley as executive producer; he hands the reins over to new executive producer Michael Piller for the third season.

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Nintendo Game Boy

Game BoyNintendo launches a portable video game system with interchangeably cartrdiges, the Game Boy, in North America. Though many industry insiders predict a short life for the handheld game thanks to its ability to quickly drain its batteries and its black & white LCD display, the game included with each Game Boy – the incredibly popular puzzle game Tetris – becomes a selling point in itself. With a price tag of around $100, the entire million-unit allotment of Game Boys shipped to American stores sells out in under two months.

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HL-20: the mini-shuttle that almost was

HL-20NASA begins intensive work, including the construction of a full-sized test article, on the HL-20, a vehicle being considered for “assured access” to the space station NASA plans to build in the 1990s. HL-20 is based upon the scale-model unmanned BOR4 vehicle test-launched four times by the Soviet Union, and testing will get as far as NASA conducting simulations to determine seating and cargo placement. Despite the relatively recent Challenger disaster, the HL-20 project is quietly dropped in the early 1990s since no urgent need is seen on a widespread basis throughout NASA to phase out or replace the Space Shuttle. The design will be revived in the 21st century by Sierra Nevada Corproation as the proposed Dream Chaser vehicle.

Voyager 2 and the ring arcs of Neptune

Neptune ringsNASA announces the confirmation of what are believed to be partial rings around planet Neptune, as discovered in images taken by the unmanned Voyager 2 space probe. The ring arcs are found in close proximity to several new satellites, also spotted in Voyager 2 images, which are too small to have been seen form Earth-based telescopes. Ground-based telescopes had led scientists to believe that they would find partial rings, or complete dark rings, at Neptune; at this time, however, and at a distance of 13 million miles, what the project scientists don’t expect is that the rings will be revealed to completely encircle the planet within mere weeks.

Voyager 2 at Neptune

NeptuneThe unmanned space probe Voyager 2, almost exactly 12 years after leaving Earth, visits its last planet in the solar system, Neptune. Since mission planners have no further targets for Voyager, they have a free hand in picking its final destinations. An extremely close trajectory over Neptune’s north pole, bringing Voyager 2 within 18,000 miles of the cloudtops of the solar system’s windiest planet, deflects Voyager downward behind Neptune for a close look at its large moon, Triton. Six new moons are discovered, and the “ring arcs” that astronomers have theorized for years turn out to be complete rings made of extremely dark material. After the surprisingly featureless face of Uranus, Neptune proves to be unexpectedly active, with a large dark storm dominating its atmosphere.

Last stop: Voyager 2 at Triton

TritonAs scientists marvel over the latest data and pictures from Voyager 2 as it leaves Neptune, images of the planet’s large moon Triton prove to be jaw-dropping. Active geysers blast dark material – possibly evidence of cryovolcanism – over the moon’s mottled surface, and an atmosphere is measured. Virtually no craters caused by meteor impacts are spotted, meaning that Triton’s surface is geologically active – all completely new discoveries to Earth-based scientists. Perhaps the most frustrating part of all of the new information is that no further missions to Neptune are in serious consideration by NASA to follow up on Voyager 2’s discoveries.

Voyager 2 outbound

Neptune and TritonNASA’s unmanned Voyager 2 space probe leaves the vicinity of the planet Neptune, the outermost planet to have been explored by a man-made spacecraft. (At this point in time, Pluto is still considered a planet – the only one to which NASA hasn’t sent a space probe – though by the time a vehicle is dispatched to Pluto in the 21st century, Pluto has been demoted to “minor planet” status.) Though not expected to function beyond 2025 due to the slow decay of its nuclear power source, Voyager 2 may survive long enough to pass within 25,000,000,000,000 miles of Sirius in a quarter of a million years.

Soyuz TM-8 / Mir Expedition EO-5

Soyuz TM-8Cosmonauts Alexander Viktorenko and Aleksandr Serebrov lift off aboard the Soviet spacecraft Soyuz TM-8, bound for the presently unoccupied space station Mir (which had been left without a crew since April 1989). At a distance of only 4 meters to Mir’s docking hatch, Soyuz TM-8 suffers a breakdown of its automated docking system, and Viktorenko has no choice but to back the Soyuz away and carefully dock under manual control. The two-man crew remains aboard Mir for 166 days, returning to Earth in February 1990.

Julee Cruise: Floating Into The Night

Julee Cruise‘s debut album Floating Into The Night is released on Warner Bros. Records, placating fans of the surprise hit TV series Twin Peaks (Cruise sings the show’s theme song). With lyrics by Twin Peaks auteur David Lynch and music by the show’s resident composer, Angelo Badalamenti, the album is strongly reminiscent of the series’ music; a proper Twin Peaks soundtrack album follows almost exactly a year later.

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Alien Nation: The Series

Alien NationThe recently-launched Fox Network launches its first prime-time science fiction series, Kenneth Johnson’s TV adaptation of the movie Alien Nation. Gary Graham, Eric Pierpoint and Michele Scarabelli star in a story of escaped alien slaves who inadvertently land on Earth, becoming a somewhat marginalized immigrant population. Diane Civita (V) and Tim Russ (Star Trek: Voyager) guest star in the pilot.

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Hubble Space Telescope…for the Apple II

Hubble Space TelescopeNASA releases an interactive electronic educational guide to the upcoming Hubble Space Telescope for the Apple II computer. Featuring diagrams of the orbiting telescope’s construction, methods of communication with Earth, and how it gathers its images. The software is released ahead of HST’s launch aboard an upcoming shuttle flight.

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The People vs. Galileo?

STS-34A lawsuit, filed by environmental activists worried about the release of plutonium from the Galileo Jupiter probe’s radioisotope thermoelectric generators in the event of a Challenger-like disaster during launch, is dismissed by a federal judge; the President of the United States has also given permission for the launch to proceed (a requirement anytime a nuclear-fueled spacecraft is in the works). The suit, filed earlier in the year, sought an injunction to prevent Galileo from being launched. Times have changed since the last RTG-powered flight (the Voyager missions of the 1970s), and activists are concerned about a Chernobyl-style radioactive disaster, although the plutonium 238 at the heart of Galileo’s power supply (and that of other interplanetary probes that have used it) is non-weapons-grade and non-fissible. Galileo is slated to be launched in a week aboard the space shuttle Atlantis.


AtlantisSpace Shuttle Atlantis lifts off on a mission lasting nearly five days, whose primary goal is to lift the interplanetary probe Galileo into orbit. Originally intended for launch in late 1982, Galileo is bound for Jupiter by way of a long, looping trajectory that sends it to Venus and back to Earth multiple times, picking up speed via gravitational assist with each visit. Galileo won’t actually reach Jupiter itself until December 1995. Aboard Atlantis for this flight are Commander Donald Williams, Pilot Michael McCulley, and mission specialists Franklin Chang-Diaz, Shannon Lucid, and Ellen S. Baker.

Star Trek: TNG: The Bonding

Star Trek: The Next GenerationThe week-long national syndication window opens for the 52nd episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. This is the first televised script written by Star Trek fan (and future Battlestar Galactica remake showrunner) Ronald D. Moore, who pitched stories to the series via the unique “spec script” program which accepted scripts written by unagented writers.

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