President Richard Nixon announces that, after three years of studies, design concepts, and deliberations, he has given NASA the go-ahead to develop a reusable space vehicle, the Space Shuttle, which can perform multiple mission profiles, land safely and launch again, with the eventual goal of launching a shuttle almost every week of the year. The contract to build the shuttle is awarded to Apollo command/service module contractor North American Aviation, which is later to complete a merger with Rockwell International, which assumes the task of building the shuttles. The first launch date is projected to take place at some point in the mid-to-late 1970s.
A three-day event called Star Trek Lives! gets underway at the Statler Hilton in New York City, organized by a group of fans including Joan Winston and future Star Trek Compendium author Allan Asherman. A gathering of fans in the low hundreds is expected, but instead a crowd of thousands turn up to hear presentations by guest speakers such as Gene and Majel Roddenberry, Isaac Asimov, former Desilu executive Oscar Katz, and Star Trek writer and script editor D.C. Fontana, as well as presentations by guests representing NASA. (Roddenberry will later claim that NBC executives were present as well, though he claims they declined to identify themselves to fans since there was a fair amount of anti-NBC sentiment expressed in the wake of Star Trek’s cancellation.) Though science fiction conventions have been held prior to this event, this is the first dedicated Star Trek convention, and indeed the first such gathering devoted to a single property.
NBC premieres the TV movie/series pilot PROBE, created by Leslie Stevens (The Outer Limits), starring Hugh O’Brian (The Life & Legend Of Wyatt Earp) and Burgess Meredith (Batman, The Twilight Zone), and guest starring Sir John Gielgud. The movie does well with audiences and gets a series pickup, though due to a conflict with a PBS series of the same name, it will be retitled “Search” when it returns on NBC’s fall 1972 TV schedule.
The Soviet Union launches unmanned space probe Luna 20 toward the moon, another robotic lunar lander with the capability of gathering a lunar soil sample and returning it to Earth. Over 50 grams of lunar material, including rocky material from the mountainous region near Luna 20’s landing site, are returned to Earth in a shielded re-entry capsule. The lander continues to operate for three days after the sample container is launched back to Earth.
NASA launches Pioneer 10, the first spacecraft sent to study the huge planet Jupiter at close range. Its Atlas-Centaur booster gives it a good head start, propelling it to over 32,000 miles per hour en route to Jupiter, the fastest man-made object in history at this point. Pioneer 10 is also the first man-made vehicle to traverse the asteroid belt, with instruments detecting fewer large particles than anticipated. It will reach Jupiter in late 1973.
After a five-month design study focusing on alternatives to a winged (and manned) reusable first stage bosoter for the upcoming Space Shuttle, NASA settles on a configuration consisting of two solid rocket boosters strapped to the shuttle’s external fuel tank. Among the alternatives considered was the possibility of restarting production of the Saturn V rockets that launched Apollo and Skylab missions, with the shuttle and its fuel tank separating from the Saturn V’s first stage at high altitude (though in this configuration, a failure of the shuttle’s main engines would prove to be catastrophic). The SRB/tank configuration is expected to shave half a billion dollars off of the shuttle’s development costs.
NBC airs the pilot episode of the supernatural anthology series Ghost Story, produced by 1960s horror movie mogul William Castle and starring Sebastian Cabot. Jeanette Nolan and Sam Jaffe guest star in a script by Richard Matheson (Twilight Zone, The Omega Man). The pilot gets enough attention for production to be greenlit on a series to premiere in the fall of 1972. (This series will be retitled Circle Of Fear in 1973.)
BBC1 airs the 28th episode of Doomwatch. This episode no longer exists in the BBC’s archives.
NASA launches the Apollo 16 mission to the moon, lasting 11 days total. Astronauts John Young and Charlie Duke descend to the lunar surface in the lander Orion, while Ken Mattingly pilots the command/service module Casper in orbit. Again, a lunar rover is tucked into one side of the lunar module, allowing Young and Duke to reach distances of 16 miles from their landing site. They spend a total of 20 hours walking on the moon’s surface, collecting over 200 pounds of soil and rock samples from the Descartes highlands region.
Students and seasoned weather researchers at the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Oklahoma embark on the Tornado Intercept Project (TIP), a concerted effort to gather film footage of developing or active tornadoes in an effort to study wind and debris patterns. Though believed by some to be of limited scientific value, TIP is the beginning of “storm chasing” and yields major breakthroughs in scientific understanding of the formation of tornadoes just one year later.
Having spent six years wrangling with various mission profiles for a “Grand Tour” of the outer solar system, made possible by a favorable planetary alignment occurring only once every 175 years, NASA finally authorizes a very stripped-down version of its original ambitious Grand Tour plans. The Mariner Jupiter/Saturn ’77 mission will consist of two twin unmanned spacecraft to be launched in 1977, each on a course to explore Jupiter, and then to use Jupiter’s gravity to deflect them to Saturn. These spacecraft will be renamed Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 just a few months before lifting off.
After two years of hammering out details and wording, President Nixon and Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin sign an international agreement to share science and technology between the United States and Soviet Union, including an agreement to mount a joint space mission culminating in the docking of an Apollo spacecraft and a Soyuz spacecraft in Earth orbit in 1975. Both nations’ space agencies begin crew selection and technical preparations for a joint venture that seemed impossible during the Cold War-fueled race to the moon.
BBC1 airs the 27th episode of Doomwatch, opening the show’s third season and adding new cast member Elizabeth Weaver. This episode, featuring Jonathan Pryce in a minor guest-starring role, no longer exists in the BBC’s archives.
BBC1 airs the 29th episode of Doomwatch. This episode, guest starring Elisabeth Sladen (Doctor Who, The Sarah Jane Adventures) no longer exists in the BBC’s archives.
With planning already well underway for the Apollo-Soyuz mission which won’t take place until 1975, NASA commissions a study from McDonnell Douglas to explore the feasibility of a follow-up to the international space mission, possibly involving joining the backup of the Skylab space station (known as “Skylab B”) and a yet-to-be-launched Soviet Salyut space station at some point in the latter half of the 1970s, effectively creating a joint international space station. Although the study goes so far as to specify issues of concern regarding the structure of the two stations and their respective standard atmospheric pressures, the recommendations are shelved pending the outcome of the Apollo-Soyuz flight. Significant political developments in the late 1970s will prevent the idea of an international station from moving forward for at least a quarter century.