Voyager 2 and the clouds of Neptune

NeptuneFor the first time, images transmitted to Earth by NASA’s unmanned Voyager 2 space probe reveal visible cloud features in the atmosphere of Neptune, from a distance of 185,000,000 miles. This is a welcome relief to mission scientists who felt let down by a lamentable lack of any atmospheric detail in the clouds of Uranus, a planet visited by Voyager 2 in 1986. In the months ahead, even more detail will be revealed in Neptune’s upper atmosphere.

Phobos 2 arrives at Mars

PhobosThe Soviet Union’s unmanned Mars probe Phobos 2 successfully arrives in orbit around the red planet after over half a year of interplanetary travel (and after the loss of its identical twin, Phobos 1). Phobos 2 begins taking pictures of both Mars and Phobos and begins a series of orbital maneuvers that will eventually lead it to a very close approach to Phobos, where it is expected to release a pair of surface landers, the first of their kind to study a Martian moon.


DiscoverySpace Shuttle Discovery lifts off on a nearly-five-day mission to take NASA’s third TDRS (Tracking & Data Relay Satellite) into orbit, among other smaller experiment packages, including IMAX filming. Aboard Discovery for the first shuttle flight of 1989 are Commander Michael Coats, Pilot John Blaha, and mission specialists James Bagian, James Buchli, and Robert Springer.

The name of the show is Babylon 5

Babylon 5After three years of tinkering with the basics of the concept, and spending much of his downtime from the 1988 Writers’ Guild strike refining the idea, writer J. Michael Straczynski completes his first draft script and series bible for a new science fiction series, Babylon 5. In the coming months he will pitch it to several networks, studios, and broadcasters (including Paramount, which passes on it), finally finding a receptive ear in Chris-Craft Television executive Evan Thompson. Thompson, in turn, introduces Straczynski to Warner Bros. TV executive Dick Robertson, with whom Thompson is exploring the possibility of launching a new network.

More about Babylon 5 in the LogBook

Phobos 2 and the curse of Mars

PhobosThe Soviet Union loses all contact with the unmanned Mars probe Phobos 2 during a close flyby of the inner Martian moon Phobos, where the vehicle had been programmed to deposit a pair of surface landers. Unable to reacquire communications with Phobos 2, Soviet ground controllers later discover a fatal error in the programming of the probe’s on-board computer, leading to a loss of attitude control similar to the incident that doomed Phobos 1 in 1988. Since delivery of the landers never occurs, the mission is deemed a failure.

Voyager 2 and the Great Dark Spot

Neptune's Great Dark SpotImages transmitted to Earth by NASA’s unmanned Voyager 2 spacecraft, from a distance of 129,000,000 miles, reveal a consistent feature in Neptune’s atmosphere, an oval-shaped storm system near the Neptunian equator very similar in size and position to the Great Red Spot on Jupiter. This storm, quickly nicknamed the Great Dark Spot, allows Voyager scientists to estimate Neptune’s rotational period much earlier than expected. At the distance between Voyager 2 and Neptune, the smallest features on the planet that can be seen are at least 2,400 miles across, meaning the newly detected storm system is gigantic.


AtlantisSpace Shuttle Atlantis lifts off on a four-day mission to launch the long-delayed interplanetary probe Magellan, which is sent to Venus via an Interial Upper Stage booster module. For the first time, one of a shuttle’s five onboard computers fails and is replaced in an in-orbit repair procedure. Aboard Atlantis for this flight are Commander David Walker, Pilot Ronald Grabe, and mission specialists Norm Thagard, Mary Cleave and Mark Lee. The launch of Magellan, a mission originally conceived in 1972, marks the beginning of the first American interplanetary mission since 1977.