Blake’s 7 premieres

Blake's 7Terry Nation, the television writer who created Doctor Who’s greatest foes, the Daleks, graces the world with another science fiction creation on the BBC, Blake’s 7. Set centuries in the future, the show depicts a government so corrupt that the audience is left with a band of terrorists, guerilla fighters and deeply flawed human beings with whom to sympathize (and luckily, they have the cathedralesque Liberator, the fastest ship in the galaxy, on their side too). The show’s only drawback? Delivering post-Star Wars sci-fi action on the budget it inherited from the cop show that previously held that Monday night timeslot.

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Soyuz 27

Soyuz 27The Soviet Union launches Soyuz 27 on a mission to the Salyut 6 space station – the first instance of three vehicles being docked together in space. Cosmonauts Vladimir Dzhanibekov and Oleg Makarov spend six days with the crew of Soyuz 26 board the station, although Dzhanibekov and Makarov swap capsules with the station crew, leaving the newer vehicle at the station for their eventual return. The crew of Soyuz 27 is in space for less than a week, but their spacecraft remains in orbit, connected to Salyut, for over two months.

Progress 1

ProgressThe first Soviet-made uncrewed Progress resupply vehicle lifts off en route to the manned Salyut 6 space station. Looking more or less like a Soyuz vehicle, Progress is an automated freighter whose systems lock onto Salyut’s docking transponder, guiding the unmanned craft toward a smooth and completely automated docking (though ground controllers stand by to take manual control by remote). Since Progress is not required to return a crew to Earth, its engines and their fuel can help to boost Salyut 6 into a higher orbit when necessary. It carries over 5,000 pounds of food, clothes and other supplies, and can automatically refill the station’s air and fuel supplies. Progress vehicles become an integral part of the space program, remaining in service long enough to resupply the International Space Station in the 21st century.

International Ultraviolet Explorer

International Ultraviolet ExplorerA joint project between NASA and the European Space Agency, the International Ultraviolet Explorer is launched atop a Delta rocket from Cape Canaveral. The precursor of later space-based telescopes such as the Hubble Space Telescope, IUE produces no photographic images, instead concentrating on detecting ultraviolet emissions from distant objects. IUE adds significantly to the growing body of space science, and is the first satellite to give astronomers the chance to immediately aim its detectors at targets that yield unexpected results, allowing it to respond swiftly to such rapidly developing phenomena as Supernova 1987A. Designed to stay operational for three years, IUE will remain online for almost two decades.

“A threat of disaster” in Antarctica

AntarcticaBritish glaciologist John H. Mercer publishes a report in Nature postulating that continued growth of fossil fuel use could lead to a runaway carbon dioxide greenhouse effect in Earth’s atmosphere, with the glaciers of western Antarctica particularly vulnerable to rising temperatures of both air and water. The glacial melting, Mercer says, could be rapid and catastrophic, leading to as much as a five-meter rise of global sea levels by 2028, putting “low-lying areas such as much of Florida and the Netherlands” underwater. Though initially treated as a “worst case scenario”, Mercer’s theory will gain traction as global ocean temperatures rise (and as glacial melting picks up speed in Antarctica) in the early 21st century, ultimately becoming the predominant theoretical timeline for sea level rise and gaining an informal name: the “John Mercer effect”.

Bionic Woman: The Martians Are Coming…

The Bionic WomanThe 51st episode of The Bionic Woman, starring Lindsay Wagner and Richard Anderson, airs on NBC. Jim McMullan (Beyond Westworld) and Frank Aletter (It’s About Time) guest star. This episode’s music marks one of the first uses of an electrical instrument called the Blaster Beam in a film scoring context; that instrument will become much more widely known when it’s used in the soundtracks of such films as Star Trek: The Motion Picture and The Black Hole over a year later.

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Star Wars action figures

Star Wars figuresWith an incredibly tight lead time (rights were secured some weeks after Star Wars became a box-office hit), General Mills subsidiary Kenner Toys brings the first Star Wars action figures to market. A dozen characters are sold individually, with a colorful mixture of the film’s heroes (Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, Ben Kenobi, R2-D2, C-3PO, Chewbacca) and villains (Darth Vader, Stormtrooper, Death Squad Commander, Tusken Raider, Jawa). While Kenner brings the figures to market in both the industry-standard 12-inch scale and a smaller, cheaper 3 3/4″ scale, marketing focuses almost entirely on the smaller toys, which then redefine the industry-standard size of boys’ character toys (and make any future vehicles and playsets much more affordable). Ironically, prior to the movie’s release when no one expected Star Wars to take off, 20th Century Fox surrendered all toy and merchandising rights to George Lucas, meaning that the runaway success of the toy range is key to his fortune.

More about Kenner Star Wars figures in ToyBox

No love for Studio II

Studio IIJust before Valentine’s Day, RCA kills its Studio II home video game console, whose blocky black & white graphics and library of “edutainment” cartridges have proven to be no competition for the more game-oriented, full-color consoles from Fairchild and Atari over the previous two Christmas shopping seasons. 120 employees directly involved with developing for or assembling the Studio II and related products are laid off from RCA’s facility in Swannanoa, North Carolina as a result. The company makes no further attempts to break into the video game business.

More about Studio II in Phosphor Dot Fossils

CBBS: first computer bulletin board system

CBBSProgrammers Ward Christensen and Randy Suess put their brainchild, the CBBS or Computer Bulletin Board System, online for the first time. Accessible to anyone with a computer modem and a phone line, CBBS allows users to log in one at a time since the system is limited to a single phone line; messages both public and private can be posted. Christensen and Suess become the first SysOps, or System Operators, responsible for both technical maintenance and moderation of the system’s content. Similar bulletin board systems spring up across America and elsewhere (indeed, in the late 1980s, theLogBook itself will be launched as a series of text files on such a BBS).

Project UFO Sighting 4001: The Washington D.C. Incident

Project UFOThe first episode of Harold Jack Bloom’s sci-fi series Project UFO premieres on NBC, portraying fictionalized investigations into what the show claims are actual cases from the U.S. Air Force’s Project Blue Book investigations. William Jordan (Beyond Westworld) and Caskey Swaim star; the series is produced by Jack Webb (Dragnet). Anne Schedeen (ALF) guest stars.

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NAVSTARThe U.S. Air Force launches NAVSTAR-1, the first of a planned constellation of experimental satellites supporting the Department of Defense’s Global Positioning System project. Envisioned as a network of satellites providing extremely accurate location data for military purposes, the Global Positioning System will later grow to service civilian customers as well. Three other NAVSTAR satellites are launched in 1978 alone, and later satellites in the original NAVSTAR series will be launched betwen 1980 and 1985. Unlike the later, more advanced NAVSTAR II satellites of the 1990s, data from the original NAVSTAR constellation is restricted to the American military.

Voyaging blindly onward?

Voyager 1 (CG)NASA’s Voyager 1 space probe, en route to its first destination, develops a potentially mission-jeopardizing problem: the scan platform, which contains and aims many of Voyager’s scientific instruments, jams and becomes stuck in place. As Voyager 1 has yet to even reach Jupiter, this threatens to make it an expensive failure. Transmitting commands from Earth to give the scan platform a gentle three-axis workout, engineers at NASA manage to free the stuck instruments, salvaging Voyager 1’s mission to the outer planets and their moons. (A similar fault develops in Voyager 2 during its 1981 encounter with Saturn.)

Star Wars Sequel

Star WarsScience fiction writer Leigh Brackett, who is battling cancer, turns in her first and only draft of a screenplay simply titled “Star Wars Sequel” (later to be known as The Empire Strikes Back); this early draft includes the notation “Episode II”. Brackett, a golden-age SF writer hired by Lucas to help him generate ideas for the second film, loses her battle with cancer soon afterward, and the screenplay is revamped significantly before shooting, though the finished movie will retain her writing credit.

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