NASA launches the JPL-built unmanned space probe Mariner 1, the first of two identical spacecraft intended to study the planet Venus. Mariner 1’s mission, however, is cut short before it even leaves Earth’s atmosphere: a communication loss between its Atlas-Agena booster rocket and ground-based control systems sends the rocket off course. Fearing that it might tumble into the Atlantic Ocean’s heavily traveled shipping lanes, NASA orders the vehicle to self-destruct in mid-air. Many later accounts lay the blame at an error in the code loaded into the rocket’s on-board guidance computer. Mariner 1’s mission objectives are transferred to its identical twin, Mariner 2, due to be launched in just over a month.
Having formed a company mere months before, Micro-Soft – in the persons of young Bill Gates and Paul Allen – make good on their sales pitch to develop a workable BASIC programming language for the Altair 8800 microcomputer. The manufacturer of the Altair, MITS, licenses Micro-Soft BASIC from Gates and Allen, who have put college and everything else on hold to move to Albuquerque to work with the company. Over the next few years, the newly-founded Micro-Soft will create versions of BASIC for other emerging computer systems, and will collide with the free-sharing ethos of computer hobbyist groups, resulting in some of the earliest accusations of computer software piracy.
The Soviet Union launches Soyuz TM-3 on an eight-day mission into space which includes a visit to space station Mir. Cosmonauts Aleksandr Aleksandrov and Muhammed Faris (the latter of whom is the first Syrian space traveler) return to Earth at the end of the mission, along with Mir crew member Yuri Romanenko, while Alexander Viktorenko takes Romanenko’s slot on Mir. In order to leave the newer vehicle docked to Mir as an escape craft, the Soyuz TM-3 crew returns aboard Soyuz TM-2.
The 19th episode of Witchblade airs on cable channel TNT, based on the Top Cow comic book of the same name, starring Yancy Butler, David Chokachi and John Hensley. Roger Daltrey (Highlander: The Series) guest stars.
Sci-Fi channel airs the 15th episode of Ronald D. Moore’s re-imagining of Battlestar Galactica. Kate Vernon guest stars.
British toymaker Character Options and American distributor Underground Toys release a wave of exclusive Doctor Who action figures at the 2009 San Diego Comic-Con. This wave includes the first action figures ever made of the Doctor’s two earliest incarnations, as well as the first Cyberman design not from the current series. Rounding out the wave is the first action figure of any Doctor Who character in a costume specified by the Big Finish audio adventures.
American pay cable channel Starz premieres the 34th 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.
Russia launches three international crew members to the International Space Station aboard Soyuz TMA-17M. Upon reaching orbit, cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and astronauts Kjell Lindgren and Kimiya Yui discover their spacecraft has a familiar problem: one of the Soyuz solar panel “wings” has failed to extend. As the vehicle is on a five-and-a-half-hour fast-track trajectory to the station, the mission continues and the Soyuz docks at the ISS without incident. After docking, the stuck solar panels extend fully, as happened in 2014’s Soyuz TMA-14M mission. The new visitors to the station will spend four months as part of the Expedition 44 crew.
The movie Star Trek Beyond opens in American theaters, having already opened overseas. Though still produced by J.J. Abrams, this third movie is directed by Justin Lin (The Fast & The Furious) and co-written by Simon Pegg, who also plays Scotty in the new movies. Idris Elba (Mandela: The Long Walk To Freedom, The Dark Tower The Wire, Luther), Sofia Boutella (Kingsman: The Secret Service) and Lydia Wilson (Misfits, Ripper Street) also star.
ISRO, India’s space agency, launches the Chandrayaan-2 mission to Earth’s moon, consisting of an orbiter and the Vikram/Prgyan lander/rover combination. The robotic vehicles are intended to conduct measurements, both from orbit and on the surface, of possible water ice deposits believed to exist at the lunar south pole. Much like the Beresheet mission launched by Israel earlier in the year, Chandrayaan-2 will employ a series of orbit-raising maneuvers until its apogee is high enough to propel it into lunar orbit with minimum reliance on burning fuel. The landing is expected to take place in September 2019.
China launches the uncrewed Tianwen-1 space probe atop a Long March 5 rocket from the launch facilities in Wenchang. Intended to achieve orbit around Mars in February 2021, the spacecraft includes an orbiter and a lander/rover; the orbiter will look for suitable landing sites for the lander/rover combo, which is not expected to be dropped off until April 2021. The rover has soil gathering and analysis capabilities, while the orbiter has ground-penetrating radar. Tianwen-1 is intended to take up the unfulfilled mission objectives of the Yinghuo-1 orbiter, which was launched as a payload on Russia’s failed Fobos-Grunt mission in 2011 (which fell back into Earth’s atmosphere).