First Spaceship on Venus
First Spaceship on Venus
For millennia, the planet Venus was an enigma. Known as Earth’s twin because of its striking similarity in size, it is covered with an impenetrable layer of clouds that obscures the surface. Lacking any direct evidence and with only the Earth to compare it to, speculation ran wild about what lay beneath. Scientists and science fiction writers alike imagined a swampy world lashed by constant rain and inhabited by dinosaur-like creatures and even humanoids.
It was not until the 1960’s when space probes were sent to Venus that scientists realized that conditions on the surface were much worse than anyone imaged. Venus is a planet with a greenhouse effect run amok: surface temperatures reach 860 degrees Fahrenheit (460 degrees Celsius), hot enough to melt lead. Atmospheric pressure at the surface is 92 times that on Earth. Nothing could live on the surface -- at least not anything we recognized as life.
The harsh conditions on the surface of Venus made landing there extremely difficult -- but it didn’t stop anyone from trying.
The Soviet Venera (Venus) 3 was the first spaceship on Venus, crashing onto the surface on March 1, 1966. Although it was the first vehicle to impact on another planet, its communications system failed before it was able to return any data during descent.
Venera 4 did better, entering the atmosphere on Oct. 18, 1967, and returning valuable data about the atmosphere while descending under parachute. The spacecraft’s instruments included two thermometers, a radio altimeter, a barometer, atmospheric density gauge, 11 gas analyzers, and two radio transmitters. The spacecraft continued to transmit date until contact was lost 15.5 miles (25 km) above the surface.
It was not until 1970 that the Soviets successfully soft landed the first spaceship on Venus. Venera 7 entered the atmosphere on Dec. 15 and jettisoned its landing capsule. Aerodynamic breaking and a parachute system were used to slow the capsule down to landing speed. An antenna was deployed, and Venera 7 transmitted data during a 35-minute descent.
The spacecraft’s parachute failed just before landing. The capsule crashed down at 38 mph (65.5 km) and toppled over. Venera 7 transmitted 23 minutes of very weak signals before its batteries died, becoming the first spacecraft to transmit data from the the surface of another planet.
The Soviets successfully landed seven additional Venera spacecraft on Venus over the 11 years that followed. Launched in 1975, Venera 9 was the first to return a photo of the surface, a 180-degree panoramic view of the landing area that revealed large rocks under a cloudy sky. Venera 11 and 12 were not so lucky; they landed successfully, but the lens caps on their cameras failed to release.
Venera 9 was the first to return a photo of the surface Venus.
Venera 13 lasted the longest on the hellish surface, 127 minutes, well in excess of its 32-minute design life. Venera 14 had a robotic arm to test the surface; however, it ended up sampling the lens cap from one of the probe's cameras that had dropped directly below the arm.
The Venera series put the first spaceships on Venus and is one of the most successful planetary exploration programs in history.
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