The Thirty Minute Blogger

Exploring Books and the Writer's Life, Faith and Works, Culture and Pop Culture, Space Science and Science Fiction, Technology and Nostalgia, Parenting and Childhood, Health: Physical and Emotional ... All Under the Iron Hands of the Clock and That 30 Minute Deadline

Monday, September 30, 2013

Looking Back on 1977: What the World Was Like When Voyager 1 Launched

Artist's image courtesy of NASA
In honor of Voyager 1's momentous accomplishment, becoming the first human made object to leave our solar system after 36 years of travel at 35,000 miles per hour (the solar system is huge!), here's what life was like ... and wasn't back in the year Voyager 1 launched. 

Back in 1977 you could have this suspenseful scene ... a man runs down a dark street chased by forces unseen (human, monster, alien, whatever). Sprinting, stumbling, gasping, he searches for something familiar. There it is down a darkened side street ... a telephone booth. He rushes up, pulls open the folding door, slams it behind him as the light flickers on in the roof above him. He desperately starts dialing for help while looking all around him into the gloom for his approaching attackers, feeling incredibly vulnerable in his lit glass booth and praying for someone to pick up the phone at the other end. The first bulky, cell phones would not be introduced to the public for another year, although the first test of a cellular phone took place in New York City in 1973, when Motorola's Martin Cooper placed the first mobile phone call from Manhattan's 6th Avenue between 53rd and 54th Streets.  

In 1977 the IBM Selectric (in my humble opinion) was still the star of the typewriter world and personal computers able to match or exceed its abilities were still years away. The amazing Selectric had been introduced in 1961 and as someone using a Olivetti portable manual typewriter to grind out term papers in 1977, it was an object to covet. 

Some of the major events of 1977 prior to Voyager 1's September 5 launch include: 

  • January 19, U.S. President Gerald Ford pardons Iva Toguri D'Aquino (a.k.a. Tokyo Rose).
  • January 20, Jimmy Carter succeeds Gerald Ford as 39th President of US.
  • January 21, Jimmy Carter pardons Vietnam War draft evaders.
  • January 23, Roots begins its phenomenally successful run on ABC TV.
  • February 7, Soviet Union launches Soyuz 24 to dock with Salyut 5 space station.
  • February 15, Space Shuttle program, first test taxi flight of Space Shuttle Enterprise.
  • March 10, rings of Uranus discovered (leading to endless off color jokes).
  • April 30, Led Zeppelin sets a new world record attendance for an indoor solo attraction at the Pontiac Silverdome when 76,229 persons attended a concert here on the group's 1977 North American Tour (rock on!).
  • May 17, Elizabeth II commences here 1977 Silver Jubilee tour in Glasgow, Scotland (I'd pick up a souvenir glass mug commemorating that event on a college trip to London in 1981).
  • May 25, Star Wars opens in cinemas and later becomes historic highest grossing film for that time ... forever changing how we geeks viewed science fiction films.
  • May 26, George Willig climbs South Tower of World Trade Center
  • June 4, the VHS videocassette format introduced in North America, Video Home System. System called Vidstar, cost $1,280. Blank tapes: $20 each.
  • June 25, American Roy Sullivan is struck by lightning for the seventh time.
  • June 26, Elvis Presley holds last concert at Market Square Arena in Indianapolis.
  • August 3, Tandy Corporation TRS-80 Model I computer announced at press conference (called affectionately the "trash 80" by kids who got one).
  • August 12, The NASA Space Shuttle, named Enterprise, makes first test free-flight from back of Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft.
  • August 15, The Big Ear, a radio telescope operated by Ohio State University as part of SETI project receives a radio signal from deep space; the event is named the Wow! signal for a notation made by a volunteer on the project.
  • August 20, Voyager Program: The US launches the Voyager 2 spacecraft.

Now back to the world of technology that "wasn't" back in 1977. The 8-track player was still selling briskly in 1977 and somehow professionally recorded 8-tracks always managed to change tracks loudly in the middle of an album's best song. It never failed.  As for what wasn't around, let's start with the personal computer that is so much a part of today's world. The first computer was invented by Konrad Zuse in 1936. It was the Z1, the world's first programmable computer. In 1974-5, Scelbi & Mark-8 Altair and IBM 5100 computers became the first consumer computers. In 1976-7, Apple I, II, & TRS-80 and Commodore Pet computers were introduced to an interested public. However, it would not be until 1979 that Seymore Rubenstein & Rob Barnaby would introduced the word processing program WordStar that made these offerings far more useful to writers everywhere. I used that system briefly when it was old, years later. In 1981, IBM offered the IBM PC Home Computer and from an "Acorn" a mighty computer revolution grew. In 1977, it was still just a seed. 

There were no digital cameras and no Internet either. It would be September 24, 1979, when Compu-Serve, later CompuServe, would offer the first dial-up online information service to the public, changing the way we communicate forever. 

Research would change after that as well. In the decades since, more useful information has become available online, slowly ending many physical searches of old documents such as stacks of dusty newspapers and journals. I don't miss that personally. The first Internet search engine, Archie, that's archive without the "v" was introduced in 1990. Goodbye dusty documents. 

The first digital book would not show up until 1987, when  Eastgate Systems, a computer game company, published its first hypertext fiction book: Afternoon, a story by Michael Joyce. That book was on a floppy disc.

The DVD would not appear until 1996. 

First digital camera for the consumer market worked with a home computer via a serial cable were the Apple QuickTake 100 camera on February 17, 1994, the Kodak DC40 camera on March 28, 1995, the Casio QV-11 (with LCD monitor, late 1995), and Sony's Cyber-Shot Digital Still Camera (1996).

First camcorders were available to public in the 1980s.

First video game console: Magnavox Odyssey, 1972 with 6 game cartridges (only works on Magnavox TVs). Pong in 1975 from Atari. In 1977, the amazing Atari 2600 VCS became available. That was a good year.

That's a brief tour of the world that was and wasn't back in 1977 when Voyager 1, with its suite of ten instruments powered by a small nuclear core, rode into the heavens on a pillar of fire to change history and, in 2013, discover the very outer edge of our solar system and become our first interstellar robot. It will keep us informed of the world beyond the solar system possibly until 2030. 

This is what NASA has done with 1970s technology. History is still being made with equipment many decades past its prime. It makes me wonder about our culture and our drive to have only the newest, shiniest technology, discarding the old at a staggering rate. There may be a lesson here somewhere. I'll leave that up to you, dear reader. That's the world that was and wasn't back in 1977. Congratulations to the NASA team that has kept Voyager flying and bringing back the discoveries for all these decades. Thanks for the inspiration.

For more on Voyager 1's recent accomplishment, see:

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