Sputnik ushers in the space age

SputnikThe Soviet Union launches the world’s first artificial satellite, the short-lived Sputnik, which transmits a steady signal from orbit that can be tracked by radio. The reaction in the United States is one of alarmed paranoia, since the launch of an orbiting vehicle demonstrates technological capabilities in excess of what is needed to launch missles from the USSR toward American soil. Sputnik’s launch is the Soviet Union’s contribution to the International Geophysical Year, an international scientific event during which the United States has also promised to launch a satellite.

Luna 3: first look at the moon’s far side

Luna 3The Soviet Union’s Luna 3 unmanned probe is launched toward the moon, where it transmits the first images of the moon’s far side back to Earth – a sight that has never been seen by humans before since the moon’s near side is tidally locked toward Earth. Luna 3’s closest pass to moon brings it to within 4,000 miles of the lunar surface, and despite low signal strength and data errors during transmission, nearly 20 images of the moon’s far side are sent back to Soviet scientists via a process not unlike sending a fax.

Courier 1B

Courier 1BThe U.S. Air Force launches the first active-relay communications satellite into orbit, Courier 1B (the original Courier 1 having been lost to a faulty launch vehicle earlier). Unlike the reflective Echo 1 satellite, Courier 1B uses power from the solar cells covering its spherical casing to reboost and retransmit the signals it receives from Earth. Once again, a message from President Eisenhower is transmitted, this time to be received by the United Nations. Clourier 1B remains functional for just over two weeks before a glitch renders it useless.

Channel 37: all radio astronomy, all the time

Radio astronomyThe United States Federal Communications Commission places a ten-year hold on television station licenses for UHF channel 37. Channel 37’s bandwidth, in the 608-614 megahertz range, is vital to the burgeoning science of radio astronomy. The FCC immediately sets about reallocating channels on the UHF dial for 18 television stations across America, which had previously been allocated channel 37 on their licenses. One month later, the ban on broadcasting in that part of the spectrum is made global; no television station in the United States, Mexico, Canada, and several other countries will ever occupy those frequencies. When the ban comes up for review again in 1974, it will be made permanent, though a petition from radio astronomers to set aside channel 36 at that time will be denied.

Luna 7

Luna 7The Soviet Union launches unmanned space probe Luna 7 to land on the moon, having spent months analyzing the failed flights of Luna 5 and 6 and implementing safeguards against those failures. Unforuntately, however, a different technical problem strikes Luna 7 just hours away from the moon’s surface, preventing it from firing its braking rockets. Luna 7 does reach the moon, but not at a survivable speed, crashing into the surface very close to its intended landing site.

Misfits Of Science: Deep Freeze

Misfits Of ScienceThe first episode of James D. Parriott’s lighthearted sci-fi series, Misfits Of Science, premieres on NBC, starring Dean Paul Martin, Kevin Peter Hall (Predator, Harry And The Hendersons), and Courteney Cox (Friends, Scream, Cougar Town). Larry Linville (M*A*S*H) guest stars.

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Lucas reveals Star Wars prequel plans

George LucasA decade after the premiere of the most recent Star Wars theatrical film (and a couple of years into a burgeoning new wave of Star Wars marketing whose most visible components are new original novels, a new action figure line, and popular role playing and computer games), George Lucas quietly announces in Daily Variety that he plans to produce – but not direct – a trilogy of prequel movies set prior to Star Wars. Though the announcement excites the Star Wars fan base, it’s one of many such announcements in the pages of Variety, many of which concern projects that never make it to the screen.

The X-Files: Herrenvolk

The X-FilesThe 74th episode of Chris Carter’s modern-day science fiction series The X-Files airs on Fox, starring Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny. Peter Donat (Time Trax) and Roy Thinnes (The Invaders) guest star in the fourth season premiere.

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Mars Odyssey arrives at the red planet

2001 Mars OdysseyNASA’s 2001 Mars Odyssey probe reaches Mars and settles into an orbit which will gradually be corrected by aerobraking (using the friction of the planet’s atmosphere to slow the vehicle down). Unlike the Mars Surveyor mission, Odyssey does not contain a landing probe, but will instead look at the planet from orbit. Another unique feature of Odyssey’s mission plan is the fact that it won’t be shut down when its scientific investigation has come to an end; it will be left in Mars orbit to serve as a communications relay satellite for future missions.

SpaceShip One wins the Ansari X Prize

SpaceShip OnePrivately-owned experimental space vehicle SpaceShip One makes its second qualifying flight into suborbital space, exceeding Mach 3 (the first privately owned vehicle to do so) and reaching an altitude of 112 kilometers. Brian Binnie pilots SpaceShip One for its third trip into space and earns the second set of FAA commercial astronaut wings as a result. A fourth trip is considered, but then cancelled to avoid any damage to the history-making vehicle. By this point, Virgin has already hired SpaceShip One designer Burt Rutan to build SpaceShip Two, a suborbtial passenger spacecraft which will take paying customers into space as part of the company’s “Virgin Galactic” service, based on the design of SpaceShip One. Rutan and investor (and Microsoft co-founder) Paul Allen also claim the $10,000,000 Ansari X Prize.