Mariner 4 successfully passes by Mars at a distance of just over 6,000 miles, and transmits the first direct measurements of the Martian environment to Earth, along with the first pictures ever taken of another planet from a nearby spacecraft. Mariner 4’s onboard instruments detect a thin atmosphere – thin enough that any future landing attempts will need to descend on retro rockets, but thick enough that a heat shield is still necessary. These findings have a ripple effect on NASA’s plans for a robotic Mars lander. After its flyby of Mars, Mariner 4 continues on into deep space.
En route to becoming the first human-made spacecraft to visit Jupiter, NASA’s Pioneer 10 also becomes the first human-made spacecraft to enter the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Whether or not the spacecraft will survive this crossing is indeed one of the mission’s major experiments, and is a topic of active debate between scientists with differing views of how densely populated the asteroid belt may be. The spacecraft will survive the crossing without incident.
The final launch of an Apollo spacecraft takes place as the last Saturn rocket carries the American component of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project into orbit. A cooperative international mission intended to see the Apollo capsule dock with a Soviet-launched Soyuz, the ASTP will be the last Apollo flight as the push toward the reusable Space Shuttle takes over NASA’s resources and planning. Aboard the Apollo command/service module are Commander Thomas Stafford, command module pilot Vance Brand, and docking module pilot Deke Slayton, the last of the seven original Mercury astronauts to reach space (heart conditions have prevented him from taking part in a mission until now). Soyuz 19, carrying cosmonauts Alexei Leonov and Valery Kubasov, lifts off a few hours earlier.
Exidy’s swashbuckling coin-op video game Venture arrives in arcades, letting players control the actions of the bow-and-arrow-shooting treasure hunter, Winky. The game’s unique structure provides an early example of an “interactive graphical menu” letting players choose which treasure room to plunder next – but a choice has to be made quickly, in real time, because there are still monsters that can kill Winky on the menu screen.
In Japan, Nintendo launches the Famicom (Family Computer) home video game system, with a few games available at the product’s launch, all of which are ports of popular Nintendo arcade games. Within months, major technical problems are reported and faulty consoles are returned, and Nintendo discovers that a design flaw is responsible. All Famicom units are recalled and refurbished at the company’s expense. In two years, the console will be launched in North America as the Nintendo Entertainment System, almost single-handedly reviving the video game industry around the world.
Sci-Fi channel airs the 14th episode of Ronald D. Moore’s re-imagining of Battlestar Galactica. This episode begins the show’s highly anticipated second season; from the second season onward, all episodes premiere in North America. Kate Vernon guest stars.
Space Shuttle Endeavour is launched on the 127th shuttle flight, a 16-day mission to the International Space Station to complete the Japanese-built Kibo laboratory facility. The installation of the final Kibo module requires five lengthy spacewalks. Aboard Endeavour for her 23rd flight are Commander Mark Polansky, Pilot Doug Hurley, and mission specialists Christopher Cassidy, Tom Marshburn, Dave Wolf, Julie Payette and Tim Kopra; Kopra remains on the station, with Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata returning to Earth on the shuttle.
American pay cable channel Starz premieres the 33rd episode of Russell T. Davies’ science fiction series Torchwood, with a season subtitle of Miracle Day. Bill Pullman (Independence Day) and Wayne Knight (Jurassic Park, Seinfeld) guest star.
Part of the 32nd full-time crew of the International Space Station lifts off from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome aboard Soyuz TMA-05M. Yuri Malenchenko, Sunita Williams and Akihiko Hoshide take up residence on the ISS for 127 days, becoming part of the Expedition 32/33 crews. All three return to Earth in November 2012 aboard the same vehicle.
Using Hubble Space Telescope images of Neptune taken between 2004 and 2009, astronomers discover a 14th moon circling the outermost planet of the solar system. Not given an official, mythologically-derived name yet, the moon is initially designated S/2004 N1, and is a small, dark body with a diameter of roughly 12 miles, making it Neptune’s smallest discovered satellite to date, orbiting the planet once a day at a distance of 65,400 miles.
Netflix premieres the eight-episode first season of Stranger Things, created by the Duffer Brothers (Wayward Pines, Hidden) and starring Winona Ryder and Matthew Modine. The series’ 1980s setting and comparisons to the works of Spielberg and Stephen King generate buzz both on the internet and off; the series’ younger cast members quickly become stars and Netflix greenlights a second season in the wake of the series’ successful release.