Zond 5

Zond 5The Soviet Union launches Zond 5, a Soyuz 7K-L1 command & service module intended for flight around the moon. Rather than a cosmonaut crew, however, Zond 5 has biological specimens on board, including insects, plants, bacteria, and a pair of turtles – the first living creatures from Earth to orbit the moon. The specimens are all returned safely, though Zond 5 is the second consecutive Zond flight to lose attitude control after re-entry, splashing down in the Indian Ocean rather than making the customary propulsive return to Soviet soil. American intelligence agencies are aware of the mostly successful flight, and NASA alters the Apollo manned flight schedule to attempt to put men in orbit of the moon by the end of 1968.

Soyuz 22

generic Soyuz image - no mission-specific photos availableThe Soviet Union launches Soyuz 22, a vehicle originally built as a backup for the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. Unusually, the vehicle does not dock at the recently-launched Salyut 5 space station, but is instead placed in an unusual orbit that happens to make it easy to monitor a major NATO exercise near Norway. Cosmonauts Valery Bykovsky and Vladimir Aksyonov remain in that orbit for nearly eight days before returning to Earth.

Mego falls into The Black Hole

VINCENT figureStill stinging from the business decision to not bid on the Star Wars toy rights, toy maker Mego International is first in line to get the toy license for Walt Disney Studios’ upcoming $20,000,000 science fiction movie The Black Hole, still in pre-production. The license includes action figures and vehicles, and banking on Star Wars levels of popularity, Mego has its products ready to go even before the movie hits theaters in late 1979 (only to see the movie flop in the US).

More about Mego Black Hole toys in ToyBox

Magellan the mapmaker

VenusNASA’s Magellan space probe, orbiting the planet Venus, has completed a checkout phase and begins its primary mapping mission, intended to gather data of the Venusian surface as high resolution as one kilometer per pixel. Rather than using visible light – which would yield only images of Venus’ dense clouds – Magellan uses radar to map the planet’s blistering hot surface. Launched in May 1989 via space shuttle, Magellan will continue mapping the surface of Venus through May 1991.

Tiangong-2 space station launched

Tiangong-2China launches its second space station, Tiangong-2, into orbit, ahead of a Shenzhou flight scheduled to carry the station’s first crew in October. Weighing over nine tons, Tiangong-2 is larger than its predecessor (which remains in orbit unoccupied, and believed to be losing attitude control), and is capable of being resupplied by uncrewed cargo vehicles called Tianzhou, similar to the Russian Progress vehicles that have resupplied Salyut, Mir, and the International Space Station. Plans at the time of launch call for Tiangong-2 to be visited by two crews.