1970s in science and technology

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Voyager spacecraft and space explorations

The spirit of discovery and exploration characterized the 1970s in science and technology in several disciplines.


The 1970s in science and technology reached its zenith with the ambitious Voyager program in 1977. The program consisted of the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 unmanned expeditions sent to several of the outer planets in the solar system. The Voyager program also sent a Voyager Golden Record with the spaceship presenting aspects of life on Earth to intelligent alien life forms outside the Earth. The record contained pictures and other data about human beings and other living beings on earth. It also had an assortment of music from across cultures.[1]

Coupled with the zenithal achievements of the Voyagers, came the end of manned spacecraft on the part of NASA, with termination of the Apollo lunar flights in 1972 with Apollo 17.[2] The Apollo-Soyuz and Spacelab programs completed in 1976, and there would be a five-year hiatus in American manned spaceflight until the flight of the Space Shuttle.[3][4] The Soviet Union would develop vital technologies involving long-term human life in free-fall on the Salyut and later Mir space stations.

In the sciences, the 1970s witnessed an explosion in the understanding of solid-state physics, driven by the development of the integrated circuit, and the laser. The development of the computer produced an interesting duality in the physical sciences at this period — analogue recording technology had reached its peak at this period, and was incredibly sophisticated. However, digital measurement and mathematical tools, now becoming cheaper (though still not within the reach of the man of the street) allowed discrete answers and imaging of physical phenomena, though at a low resolution and a low bandwidth of data. This tendency was to reach its peak in 1982, though the period 1974–1982 represents the 'period of dichotomy' in the metrication of the sciences.

Deep understanding of physics became important in the 1970s. At CERN, the ISR proton collider and the Super Proton Synchrotron started operation in this decade, and Stephen Hawking developed his theories of black holes and the boundary-condition of the universe at this period. The biological sciences, spurred by social concerns about the environment and life, gained tremendous detail in this period. The elucidation of molecular biology, bacteriology, virology and genetics achieved their modern forms in this decade. The discrete quantum interactions within living systems became amenable to analysis, and manipulation. Genetic Engineering became a commercially viable technology at this time.

The biodiversity of the Earth's rainforest biomes became a cause for concern among conservationists, as the rate of destruction became more widespread. In evolutionary sciences the idea of punctuated equilibrium by Stephen Jay Gould, took hold of the scientific community and redefined the foundations of evolutionary thought.


The birth of modern computing was in the 1970s. The world's first general microprocessor — the Intel 4004, came out on Nov. 1971. The C programming language was developed early in the decade with the Unix operating system being rewritten into it in 1973. With "large-scale integration" possible for integrated circuits (microchips) rudimentary personal computers began to be produced along with pocket calculators. Notable home computers released in North America of the era are the Apple II, the TRS-80, the Commodore PET, and Atari 400/800 and the NEC PC-8001 in Japan.

The availability of affordable personal computers led to the first popular wave of internetworking with the first bulletin board systems. In 1976, Cray Research, Inc. introduced the first supercomputer, the Cray-1, which could perform at a rate of 230,000,000 calculations per second. Supercomputers designed by Cray continued to dominate the market throughout the 1970s. The 1970s was also the beginning of the video game era. Atari established itself as the dominant force in home video gaming, first with its home version of the arcade game Pong and later in the decade with the Atari 2600 console (originally called the "VCS", or Video Computer System). By the end of the decade, the scene was set for the Golden Age of Arcade Games.

The 1970s were also the start of Fiber Optics. In 1970 Corning glass announced that it had created a glass fiber so clear that it could be used to communicate pulses of light. Soon after, GTE and AT&T began experiments to transmit sound and image data using fiber optics, which transformed the communications industry. In automotive technology, post 1973, saw direction in both the United States and Europe turn away from the large and heavy mainstream automobiles, and towards lightweight, fuel efficient and environmentally conscious vehicles, already started to be produced by Japan. The Lotus Esprit was an example of a 1970s super car, producing high performance from a small engine. The Volkswagen Golf GTI of 1974 made the concept of a performance hatchback part of automotive mainstream thinking, though it had many precedents.

The United States lagged badly in the development of compact and fuel-efficient vehicles, a side effect of industrial inexperience on the part of the manufacturers in Detroit, and two giants of the industry, GM and Ford both produced vehicles that fell drastically short of customer desires and economic demands; In the case of GM the Vega and for Ford the Pinto.

Automotive historians have also described the period as 'the era of poor quality control', and manufacturers internationally produced vehicles that have now become by-words for poor technological integration. Notably, the 1970s saw the introduction in the automotive field of novel technologies, particularly from Japan and Germany, that would begin to mature in the 1990s and 2000s as viable alternative propulsion sources, such as hybrid vehicles, Stirling engines, as well as solar-electric and pure-electric vehicles.

The integration of the computer and robot, particularly in Japan, saw unprecedented improvements in mass-produced automotive quality. Japanese advanced lightweight, fuel efficient and environmentally conscious vehicles dramatically increased in demand, and such cars as the Honda Civic and the Toyota Corolla became some of the most popular and iconic vehicles of the 1970s. Japanese manufacturers dramatically made their presence felt in international markets during the decade.

During the 1970s, microwave ovens experienced a surge in popularity as price and size decreased rapidly towards the end of the decade. Cassette tapes also continued to surge in popularity after their introduction in the 1960s. JVC's VHS and Sony's Betamax waged a videotape format war as the primary recording and video devices beginning in 1976, but by the end of the decade VHS had become the dominant format.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Voyager - The Interstellar Mission". Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Retrieved 27 April 2012. 
  2. ^ "NASA - Apollo". National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Retrieved 27 April 2012. 
  3. ^ "NASA - Apollo-Soyuz Test Project". National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Retrieved 27 April 2012. 
  4. ^ "NASA - Space Shuttle Era". National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Retrieved 27 April 2012.