A near miss: the Great 1972 Fireball

Great 1972 FireballIn the broad daylight of mid-afternoon, an asteroid measuring somewhere between 10 and 50 feet in diameter plows through Earth’s atmosphere over North America, creating a long-tailed fireball across the sky. Undetected before its close pass – only 35 miles from Earth’s surface – asteroid US19720810 skips off of the atmosphere and back into space, having lost half of its mass to the frictional heating of plummeting through the atmosphere. The spectacle lasts only a couple of minutes, and US19720810 will make another pass by the Earth in 1997 (though not at such a close distance).

Doomwatch: Killer Dolphins

DoomwatchBBC1 airs the 37th episode of Doomwatch. This episode no longer exists in the BBC’s archives. Due to its controversial content, the following episode, Sex And Violence, is never broadcast by the BBC, and production on the series is shut down before the planned 13th and final episode of the season can be filmed, effectively making Killer Doplhins the series’ broadcast sawn song.

More about Doomwatch in the LogBook

Orbiting Astronomical Observatory 3: Copernicus

OAO-1NASA launches the third and final Orbiting Astronomical Observatory satellite, given the nickname “Copernicus” when it successfully enters service near the 500th anniversary of the birth of the famed astronomer of the same name. OAO-3 is a joint venture between NASA and universities in the U.S. and the U.K., again focusing largely on ultraviolet observation of the sky, and it is instrumental in the discovery and study of long-period pulsars. OAO-3 will remain in service through February 1981, its successful nine-year mission lending weight to the ongoing construction and planning of NASA’s Space Telescope project, later to be known as the Hubble Space Telescope.

Doctor Who in the USA

Doctor WhoThe British science fiction series Doctor Who is broadcast in the United States for the first time on WPHL, an independent commercial TV station in Philadelphia. WPHL is among the first American stations to have purchased a syndication package of Doctor Who episodes, starrring Jon Pertwee as the third Doctor, from BBC Enterprises by way of Time-Life Television. The package includes the series’ first two color seasons, plus the first story from the 1972 season (the relatively recent Day Of The Daleks). The success of Star Trek reruns in syndication may well have indie stations convinced that Doctor Who is the next big thing…

Venus Orbiter Imaging Radar

VOIRA working group of scientists and engineers at NASA submit an official proposal for a spacecraft using synthetic aperture radar to map the surface of the planet Venus. Conceived as a mission that could be launched from a Titan IIIe or from the space shuttle, both of which still exist only on the drawing board, Venus Orbiter Imaging Radar (or VOIR) is designed to offer extensive mapping of Venus at a resolution much better than the coarse resolution of radar signals originating from Earth-based radio astronomy facilities such as Arecibo, along with such cutting-edge technologies as stereoscopic imaging and solar electric propulsion. Work on this mission will continue through the early 1980s, at which point it is cancelled by NASA and replaced by a cheaper mission intended to achieve the same goals, Magellan.


NOAA / ESSA satellite seriesNASA and the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration launch NOAA-2, a weather satellite intended to operate in a near-polar low Earth orbit. NOAA-2 is based on the already-flown ITOS satellite design, and will function in orbit through October 1974, with a break of only a few months due to a failed vertical temperature profile radiometer instrument. NOAA-2 will be shut down in January 1975.

Mariner 9: mission accomplished

Mariner 9The unmanned NASA/JPL space probe Mariner 9 concludes its mission to map the surface of Mars. After spending more than a year as the first human spacecraft to orbit another planet in the solar system, Mariner 9’s fuel supply has run out, but not before it has obtained over 7,000 images of the surface of Mars, discovering gigantic volcanoes and huge canyons in the process. The detailed photography returned by Mariner 9 is a vitally important tool for scientists and mission planners already hard at work on a potential robotic landing mission to Mars, to be launched later in the 1970s. Though inactive, Mariner 9 remains in orbit of Mars.