A history of the expeditions to venus
A look at the different types of NASA and Soviet Union spacecraft that have reached the planet Venus.
Photo Credit: NASA
By Matthew Thompson
Venus is the one planet in our solar system that closely resembles the Earth. In size, Venus is considered to be our “twin” planet as it is only around 400 miles smaller in diameter than Earth. But that is where the similarity between the planets ends, for Venus has an atmosphere that is extremely inhospitable compared to our home world. The planet is covered in sulfuric clouds and the surface temperature is estimated to be around 870 degrees F.
Venus has the honor of being the first planet in our solar system to be observed by a passing spacecraft. Forty-three years ago, when NASA was in its infancy, a deep space probe called Mariner 2 passed within 21,600 miles of Venus. Mariner 2 had been journeying though space for 3 Â½ months before it finally arrived at the planet. The probe gave scientists their first look into the planets dense atmosphere.
The Soviet Union space program got the next look at the planet Venus. In February of 1962, Venera 2 closed in to around 15,000 miles of the planet, and a few days later Venera 3 actually crashed down onto the planets surface.
The United States and the Soviet Union both had spacecraft reach Venus in October of 1967. The Soviet Union, continuing their Venera series, sent Venera 4 to Venus and were able to drop a capsule to the surface, which allowed for information to be taken from the planet surface. A day later, Mariner 5 brushed by Venus at 2,480 miles marking the second time a U. S spacecraft had reached, and flown by Venus.
Venera 7 landed on Venus in December of 1970, making history as the first manmade object to land and send back information from another world. The Unites States did another fly by with Mariner 10 in 1974 taking the first ever up close photographs of the planet.
The Soviet Union had two spacecraft reach Venus within three days of each other in 1975. Venera 9 landed on October 22nd and sent the first detailed photographs of the planet’s surface back to earth. Venera 10 reached the planet on October 25th taking pictures of the planet surface and measuring certain atmospheric conditions.
December 1978 was a busy month for Venus as the United States and the Soviet Union sent two spacecraft each to the planet. The U.S had Pioneer Venus 1 and Pioneer Venus 2 arrive at the planet that month. The Soviets sent Venera 11 and 12 to Venus, both arriving within four days of each other, and sending back information on the lower atmosphere.
The Soviet Union continued its exploration of Venus during the 1980’s sending an additional four space probes to the planet. Venera 13 and 14 arrived in March of 1982 taking photographs and doing analysis of soil samples. Between 1983 and 1984, Venera 15 and 16 mapped parts of Venus, and this mission was the last of the Venera missions to the planet Venus.
The Untied States sent the spacecraft Magellan next, which entered into an orbit of Venus August 10, 1990. This probe was able to transmit images of the planet’s surface that measured as small as 330 feet in diameter.
The European Space Agency (ESA) will be the next space program to visit Venus, with the scheduled of launch of the Venus Express spacecraft in November of 2005. Japan joins the international exploration of Venus with a tentatively scheduled launch the Planet-C, a spacecraft that will settle into orbit around the year 2009.
Due to its close proximity to Earth, Venus is the ideal planet for exploring. As the years go by, and more spacecraft are launched, we will surely learn more about our “twin,” planet, and discover more of her silent, awaiting secrets.
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