Space ShuttleSpace Shuttle Columbia lifts off on a six-day satellite deployment mission, and is also the first spaceflight to include a sitting member of the US Congress among its crew. The SATCOM KU-I satellite is launched, but another payload designed to observe Halley’s Comet (which is rapidly approaching its closest approach to Earth) malfunctions and collects no data. Columbia’s crew for this mission consists of Commander Robert Gibson, Pilot Charles Bolden, mission specialists Franklin Chang-Diaz, Steven Hawley, George Nelson, and payload specialists Robert Cenker and Congressman Bill Nelson.

This is the final successful shuttle flight until 1988.

Star Trek re-recordings

Star TrekLabel X releases two volumes of new recordings of classic Star Trek soundtrack music. Volume 1 features music from the episodes Is There In Truth No Beauty? and The Paradise Syndrome, while Volume 2 premieres music from The Enemy Within, The Conscience Of The King, The Spectre Of The Gun, and I, Mudd. Both releases are timed to coincide with the beginning of Star Trek’s 20th anniversary year.

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Electric Light Orchestra: Balance Of Power

ELOElectric Light Orchestra‘s eleventh album, Balance Of Power, is released, featuring the single “Calling America”. This is the final release by ELO before Jeff Lynne officially disbands the group, as well as the final album containing anything remotely resembling the lineup of ELO’s ’70s heyday. Drummer Bev Bevan later recuits new musicians and other former ELO members to form ELO Part II.

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Voyager 2 at Uranus

Voyager 2 visits the third planet on its grand tour of the outer solar system, becoming the first and only man-made spacecraft to visit Uranus. Since the blue-green planet and its moon are tipped over, Voyager has fewer opportunities to gather images of the moons of Uranus, but a close pass by its innermost large satellite, Miranda, yields pictures of one of the stranger surfaces in the solar system: a moon that was ripped apart and melted back together in the distant past. The atmosphere of Uranus reveals almost no details to Voyager 2’s cameras in the scant visible light available this far from the sun, but ten new moons are discovered, and the planet’s elusive dark rings are captured in several images. With no other missions to Uranus in the pipeline, Voyager 2’s brief flyby remains the primary source of most of our knowledge of the seventh planet from the sun. It will now take Voyager 2 three years to reach Neptune, its final target.

STS-51L: the Challenger disaster

Space Shuttle73 seconds after liftoff, Space Shuttle Challenger explodes when a rubber O-ring designed to be a tight seal between solid rocket booster segments allows flames from the booster to breach the shuttle’s external fuel tank, causing the tank’s highly flammable contents to ignite. The shuttle is destroyed with all hands aboard. Later analysis reveals that frigid cold temperatures in the nights leading up to the launch allowed the booster’s O-rings to become brittle enough to break – a possibility that NASA had been warned of by engineers at Morton-Thiokol, the contractor responsible for the solid rocket boosters.

Lost in the explosion are Commander Francis R. Scobee, Pilot Michael Smith, mission specialists Judy Resnik, Ellison Onizuka and Ronald McNair, and payload specialists Gregory Jarvis and Christa McAuliffe, the highly-publicized first “teacher in space.”

The Space Shuttle program is grounded for over two years during an investigation and an extensive review of safety and launch procedures.

Galileo, Magellan go back to the shop

GalileoNASA informs the project managers of the Galileo and Magellan interplanetary probes – both of which were due to be launched via space shuttle – that their planned launches are obviously off the schedule due to the destruction of space shuttle Challenger and her crew. Further changes in the shuttle program in the wake of the tragedy will have far-reaching effects, including the cancellation of propulsion modules that would have allowed, for example, Galileo to be put on a direct trajectory toward Jupiter. The Galileo mission plan will undergo significant changes, including the loss of a planned visit to asteroid 29 Amphitrite, and both missions will eventually begin from the cargo bay of space shuttle missions in 1989.


Mir launchThe Soviet Union launches the first module of its new Mir space station, a new modular station design building on the Soviets’ years of experience with the Salyut stations. One end of this “core” module is a six-sided structure, with docking ports on five sides; this design will allow new modules to be added onto Mir in all directions, and will potentially allow for several Soyuz or unmanned Progress cargo vehicles to be docked simultaneously, a design element which will later be carried forward to the International Space Station.

Misfits Of Science: The Avenging Angel

Misfits Of ScienceThe 15th episode of James D. Parriott’s lighthearted sci-fi series, Misfits Of Science, airs on NBC, starring Dean Paul Martin, Kevin Peter Hall, and Courteney Cox. Vic Polizos (Harlem Nights, Jericho) guest stars. NBC cancels the series due to falling ratings (after scheduling the series opposite the hit prime time soap Dallas); a final episode will be “burned off” later in the year.

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Vega 1 visits Halley

Vega 1The Soviet Union’s unmanned space probe Vega 1 makes its closest approach to the nucleus of Halley’s Comet, a little over 5,000 miles away (a closer flight path is taken by its twin, Vega 2). Information gathered in the earliest stages of the encounter is shared with the European Space Agency, whose Giotto unmanned probe will make a much closer examination of Halley. Vega 1 registers an immense number of impacts from dust particles, but sustains no serious damage in close proximity to the comet; after several days of observations, Vega 1 is allowed to fall into an orbit around the sun.

Twilight Zone: Episode 20

The Twilight ZoneCBS airs the 20th episode of a revival of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone. Lane Smith (V) and Mare Winningham star in an episode comprised of two short stories, Profile In Silver and Button, Button, the latter of which is Richard Matheson’s adaptation of his own short story.

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Vega 2 visits Halley

Vega 2The Soviet Union’s unmanned space probe Vega 2 makes its closest approach to the nucleus of Halley’s Comet, within 5,000 miles of the comet’s icy core. Hundreds of photos are taken and transmitted back to Earth, along with analysis of the dust and gas surrounding the comet. Within a week, Vega 2’s mission is complete, and the probe is allowed to fall into an orbit around the sun as Halley continues to speed back toward the outer solar system.

Soyuz T-15 / Mir Expedition 1

MirThe Soviet Union launches Soyuz T-15 on an unprecedented mission into orbit. Cosmonauts Leonid Kizim and Vladimir Solovyov become the first occupants of the newly-launched Mir space station on March 15th, where they remain until early May, at which time they undock the Soyuz T-15 vehicle from Mir and visit the powered-down Salyut 7 space station, becoming its final occupants until they return to Mir in late June, bringing several pieces of equipment and experiments cannibalized from Salyut back with them. The crew spends a total of 125 days in space, at the end of which Kizim is the most-traveled man in space, having accumulated over a year of total space travel time. Soyut T-15 is the last second-generation Soyuz vehicle to fly, returning to Earth on July 16th.

Giotto gets close to Halley’s Comet

Halley's CometThe European Space Agency’s unmanned Giotto space probe makes its closest approach to the nucleus of Halley’s Comet, coming within 400 miles of the comet’s core and taking unprecedented photos that help scientists refine their theories about cometary composition and formation. Giotto pays for the close encounter by taking a beating: its instruments register significant dust impacts, and one impact event jars the spacecraft off of its axis, coming dangerously close to breaking Giotto’s radio contact with Earth and forcing the vehicle to stabilize itself with thrusters. After its encounter with the comet, Giotto falls into a long, looping orbit around Earth, where it will be reactivated to study another comet years later.

Robin Of Sherwood: Herne’s Son, Part 1

Robin Of SherwoodThe 14th episode of Richard Carpenter’s fanciful retelling of the Robin Hood legend, Robin Of Sherwood, airs on ITV, starring Jason Connery, Mark Ryan, Judi Trott, and Nickolas Grace. Richard O’Brien (The Rocky Horror Picture Show) guest stars in the third season premiere, which also introduces Jason Connery (son of James Bond actor Sean Connery) as Robert of Huntingdon, who takes on the mantle of Robin Hood for the remainder of the series following Michael Praed’s departure.

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Twilight Zone: Episode 24

The Twilight ZoneCBS airs the 24th episode of a revival of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone. Victor Garber (Alias, Legends Of Tomorrow) and Jenny Agutter (Logan’s Run) star in an episode comprised of two short stories, A Day In Beaumont (written by David Gerrold) and The Last Defender Of Camelot, adapted by George R.R. Martin from Roger Zelazny’s short story. This episode closes the first season.

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Art Of Noise: In Visible Silence

Art Of NoiseArt Of Noise, now signed to Chrysalis Records, releases its second album, In Visible Silence. Band members Anne Dudley, J.J. Jeczalik and Gary Langan, having split with founding members Paul Morley and Trevor Horn, continue the group’s sample-heavy sound with a more popular direction, including collaborations with Duane Eddy (on a well-known cover of his 1959 TV theme “Peter Gunn”) and, bizarrely but appropriately, Max Headroom (a.k.a. actor Matt Frewer). The popular instrumental “Legs” also comes from this album.

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GOES-G goes nowhere fast

GOES-6NOAA’s GOES-G Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite is launched from Cape Canaveral, intended to replace the failed GOES-5 satellite in a geosynchronous orbit over Earth’s western hemisphere. But an electrical fault destroys GOES-G’s Delta booster in flight, and the rocket explodes 71 seconds into its flight. This is NASA’s first attempt to launch a rocket since the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster earlier in 1986, raising new questions about the space agency’s reliability and safety record.