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This Day in Science Fiction History: 6 August

Fictional Entry—Friday, August 6, 1976 /

Wednesday, August 6, 2081 / Monday, August 6, 3979

Cartoon image of NASA spaceship Venturer splashing down from "Return to the Planet of the Apes" episode 1 "Flames of Doom"
NASA "Venturer" splashes down in 3979 (© 20th Century Fox Television 1975)

NASA’s space probe Venturer launched from Launch Pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The task of the three astronauts (Bill Hudson [commander], Jeff Allen [pilot], and Judy Franklin [mission specialist]) was to test Doctor Stanton’s “Time Thrust” theory. Within a few hours after launch, the ship had reached orbit and began speeding up using a special expendable booster. The booster expended its fuel and was automatically jettisoned. As expected, Venturer then disappeared from all tracking stations on Earth.

Dr. Stanton’s theory was based on one of the implications of Dr. Albert Einstein’s special relativity theory, in that as a vessel approaches the speed of light, the vessel will experience time slower than the rest of the universe. The flight experiment was meant to prove that it was possible to control movement forward in time through extreme speeds. The astronauts had proof based on their internal and external clocks that Venturer had traveled through time, though much further ahead than originally expected. The original calculations were for the ship to travel a year into the future.

Instead, Venturer’s speed produced a time dilation of slightly over one century. This was not true though, since the ship and crew had actually traveled along a Hasslein Curve, possibly the same one experienced by the ANSA vessels earlier in the decade. This meant they had not time-traveled for the shown one century, but nearly two thousand years into the future.

Venturer was not designed for such a voyage and the ship immediately began to tumble and lose altitude. Jeff Allen fought the tumble and managed to gain enough control to properly align the heat shield for reentry. The ship’s clock jumped forward continually as the vessel slowed and entered the Earth’s atmosphere. There had been no contact with NASA or any other ground stations during the descent. Judy Franklin used the ships’ guidance telescope to find a safe water landing spot. The coastline of North America was subtly different, but she was able to find a deep lake in the northeastern United States as a potential landing site. She chose a lake instead of an at-sea landing to ensure the three astronauts would have a chance to get to land if no help arrived.

The landing was successful. Venturer splashed down, using the landing flotation system to stay above water. However, there was no way for the astronauts to steer Venturer to shore and the flotation system was designed only for temporary usage until a naval support vessel could lift Venturer on deck. The three astronauts quickly abandoned the ship using the emergency inflatable raft to get to shore. The rocky and sand-covered landscape was unfamiliar, looking more like the American Southwest than the expected deciduous forests of the East Coast, but they were alive and in one piece.

Return to the Planet of the Apes S01E01 Flames of Doom

Television Series

20th Century Fox Television


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


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