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This Day in Science Fiction History: 21 March

Fictional Entry—Saturday, March 21, 3085  

ANSA starship Probe Six crashed in a clearing of a chaparral forest.
ANSA starship Probe Six crash site (© 1974 20th Century Fox Television)

The American National Space Administration (ANSA), the extra-solar experimental group split from NASA, launched the starship Probe Six in early May of 1980. Former NASA astronauts Bill Hudson, Maryann Stewart, and Judy Franklin were the chosen crew members. Stewart and Franklin became the first American women in space during this flight. Astronauts Hudson and Franklin would later be crew of the Venturer and Stewart would join the crew of the Liberty 1. The ship orbited Earth for three days. During that time, all the ship’s systems except the photon drive, were tested. Additionally, the mission included the deployment of several spy satellites.

 

After the successful test flight of Probe Six, the vessel landed at White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico. After landing, the ship was attached to the Star Vessel Carrier Aircraft (SVCA). The SCVA were heavily modified Boeing 747s, similar to the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA). To prevent knowledge of the flights and ship, the aircraft flew only at night and returned Probe Six to Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Probe Six was moved to the Vehicle Assembly Building. There the ship was refurbished, refueled, and mated to a new launch rocket.

 

Just after sunset on August 18, 1980, astronauts Alan J. Virdon (captain), Peter Burke (pilot), and Edward “Jonesy” Jones (navigator) filed aboard Probe Six. The launch was held until after the moon set to minimize the chance of anyone, most importantly Soviet spies, getting good intelligence of the launch.  At 2:58 AM EST on August 19, Probe Six was launched into space. Its primary mission was a routine mapping of the near space around Alpha Centauri. Records later declassified by ANSA indicate the mission also included the deployment of two DeepScan long-duration extra-solar tracking satellites. DeepScan was one of several programs used to track Soviet extra-solar flights.

 

The ship orbited Earth for several hours. Once all the required verifications were completed, the ship ignited the main chemical fuel engine and broke orbit. Once free of Earth’s gravity well, Probe Six energized the photon drive for trans-light velocity. However, shortly after the drive began accelerating the craft towards Alpha Centauri, the ship began to vacillate off course.

 

Astronaut Jones attempted to recalibrate the instruments, but they continued to show Probe Six veering farther and farther off-course. The variations in acceleration caused the crew to experience extreme g-forces. Virdon checked the instruments and determined the ship had entered a zone of radioactive turbulence. The cause of this turbulence is not known. Realizing there was a high chance of all the crew members passing out from the acceleration, Jones activated the ship’s Automatic Homing Device.

 

Activation of the device immediately turned the ship back toward Earth and dumped all navigational, scientific, communications, and trajectory data to ANSA mission control computers. This was the last communication from the ship and crew. Tracking stations on Earth and in orbit showed the ship slowly turning back toward Earth. Within minutes, the ship faded from all tracking systems. Subsequent attempts to regain communications or tracking failed. Two years later, the ship and crew were declared lost and assumed dead. The final fate of Probe Six and her crew was never determined.

 

Planet of the Apes S01E01 Escape From Tomorrow

Television Series

20th Century Fox Television

1974

 

This Day in Science Fiction History examines notable events, real and fictional, concerning fantasy and science fiction in various media.

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