Luna 23

Luna 23The Soviet Union launches the unmanned space probe Luna 23 toward the moon, intended to gather surface samples from the Mare Imbrium region for return to Earth. The sample collection hardware is unable to complete its task after landing, and ground controllers are only able to receive partial scientific data from the lander, whose batteries run out within three days of landing. It won’t be until 2012, when NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter photographs Luna 23’s landing site from orbit, that the truth will be learned: the lander tipped over on its side during a descent mishap, leaving it intact but unable to gather a soil sample.

Soyuz 16

Soyuz 16The Soviet Union launches Soyuz 16, a six-day manned space mission to test modifications to the Soyuz vehicle design ahead of 1975‘s Apollo-Soyuz Test Project international flight. Cosmonauts Anatoly Filipchenko and Nikolai Rukavishnikov test the new Soyuz docking mechanism and solar panels, and new rendezvous/docking equipment intended to assist with the Apollo-Soyuz flight as well as to prevent “wasted” missions such as Soyuz 15.

You’re listening to Earth FM

The Arecibo MessageThe first transmission from Earth designed to be a message for interstellar listeners is broadcast from the newly-refurbished Arecibo Radio Telescope in Puerto Rico. Weighing in at 210 bytes, the message is a binary transmission that, when properly assembled, provides a graphical representation of Earth’s solar system, a human being, the makeup of human DNA and the elements from which it is constructed, and the population of Earth. Though the Arecibo dish is pointed in the direction of the M13 globular cluster at the time of the message’s transmission, that cluster will have moved in the 25,000 years it takes for the message to reach that location (and, in any case, Earth and its entire solar system will have moved in the 25,000 additional years it would take to receive a reply), so the message is more of an interstellar technology demo than a message in a bottle.

Pioneer 11 visits Jupiter

Pioneer 11 at JupiterNASA’s Pioneer 11 space probe passes close to Jupiter, barely 27,000 miles above the giant planet’s cloudtops, again encountering radiation capable of frying spacecraft electronics. Pioneer 11 captures the first images of Jupiter’s polar cloud structure and pulls off a daring gravity assist maneuver: the planet’s gravity flings Pioneer 11 up and over the north polar region and across the solar system for a 1979 rendezvous with Saturn, the first spacecraft to visit that planet.

Altair 8800

Altair 8800The January 1975 issue of Popular Electronics Magazine goes on sale days before Christmas 1974, with its cover article heralding the arrival of the MITS Altair 8800 microcomputer. The first open-architecture microcomputer, the Altair is available in kit form or fully assembled, with 4K of RAM built around an Intel 8080 processor. Expecting to sell a few hundred kits, MITS founder Ed Roberts finds himself flooded with so many orders that he has to hire additional workers to start catching up with the backlog of purchases, with the time from order to delivery stretching into months. This is the beginning of the modern computer revolution, with companies other than MITS producing peripherals and software for the Altair. The most notable of these third-party vendors is a newly-formed company called Microsoft – a two-man operation founded by Bill Gates and Paul Allen – which produces a working version of the BASIC language for the Altair.

Salyut 4

SalyutThe Soviet Union launches its fourth orbital space station, Salyut 4. Much like Skylab, Salyut 4 is fitted with a solar telescope and X-ray astronomy equipment, which is trained on the X-ray source (and potential black hole) Cygnus X-1 during its flight. Three crews will go on to occupy Salyut 4 before it is deorbited in 1977; it is the first Soviet space station to successfully be occupied by multiple crews.

Doctor Who: Robot Part 1

Doctor WhoThe 382nd episode of Doctor Who airs on BBC1. Tom Baker makes his debut as the fourth Doctor in this first episode of the show’s 12th season. (The December 1974 premiere date also gives Baker his claim to being the Doctor for “seven years” by about three days.) Ian Marter makes his first appearance as the Doctor’s new companion, Naval Surgeon Lt. Harry Sullivan.

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