WABOT-1At Tokyo’s Waseda University, robotics pioneer Professor Ichiro Kato and his team unveil the first full-size humanoid robot, WABOT-1. Capable of hearing and responding in speech, grasping objects, using artificial eyes to measure distances to objects, and rudimentary walking movement, WABOT-1 is the culmination of designs laid out as early as 1967 and construction and testing begun in 1970. Its creators estimate that it had the mental abilities of an 18-month-old child. (It is still intact and on display at Waseda University.)

Voyager 1 leaves Earth

VoyagerThe unmanned robotic Voyager 1 space probe lifts off on a voyage to Jupiter, Saturn and beyond, taking advantage of a once-in-175-years alignment of the planets in the outer solar system. Originally designated Mariner 11, one of many planned space probes in the now greatly scaled-back Mariner Jupiter/Saturn ’77 program, Voyager 1 is also the first spacecraft to take a picture of the Earth and its moon from beyond the moon’s orbit, and will become the first human-made object to leave Earth’s solar system.

Did you go before leaving the space station?

Soyuz TM-6Cosmonauts Vladimir Lyakhov and Abdul Ahad Mohmand, the first Afghan in space, undock from the Mir space station and prepare to return home, jettisoning the orbital module of their Soyuz TM-5 space capsule per standard procedure. But their descent module – the only part of a Soyuz that ever returns to Earth intact – experiences numerous technical glitches, and ground controllers in the Soviet Union order them to stay in orbit for an extra day. That’s easy enough for engineers on Earth to say: the abandoned orbital module contains the only toilet facilities on a Soyuz spacecraft, leaving the crew to hold everything until their return on September 7th; there is also no fresh water available. Needless to say, Soviet mission planners redraw the rules of future missions to keep the orbital module attached until the last possible moment with safety guidelines.

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.

Finding Philae

PhilaeWith mere weeks left before the European Space Agency’s Rosetta space probe is shut down, the spacecraft’s gradually decreasing orbit allows it to see more fine detail on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, which is now outbound near the orbit of Jupiter. Rosetta’s surface survey finally reveals the fate of the short-lived Philae lander: as ESA engineers suspected in 2014, it came to rest on its side in a crevasse, preventing its batteries from recharging via its solar panels. Originally aimed at the Agilkia region on the larger of Comet 67P’s two “lobes”, Philae’s harpoon anchoring system failed to fire, leaving the lander to bounce helplessly into a ravine on the smaller lobe of the comet, in the Abydos region. It only relayed its surface findings to Rosetta for three days in late 2014. Rosetta would soon join Philae on the surface, with a surface impact scheduled for September 30, 2016.