Category Archives: Venus
These days if you look toward the west after sunset you’ll see a bright star that’s the first to appear in the sky – except it’s not a star at all but our neighboring planet, Venus. Covered in a dense layer of thick clouds, Venus not only reflects a lot of sunlight but also keeps its surface well concealed from visible-light observations. But with the capabilities of powerful ground-based radar observatories, scientists have been able to make global maps of Venus from right here on Earth… no rockets necessary!
The surface of Venus is definitely no easy place to which to send a spacecraft. Crushing atmospheric pressures, powerful high-altitude winds amid caustic clouds of sulfuric acid, and temperatures that can soar above 880ºF (475ºC) make the next planet in a no-man’s-land for robotic spacecraft. But those challenges didn’t stop the Soviet space program from successfully putting several craft onto Venus’ surface in the 70s and early 80s, giving us our first views of its kiln-dried landscape.
Venera-3 became the fist spacecraft on the surface of another planet when it impacted Venus on March 1, 1966, but no data was returned. The next year Venera-4 was sent to Venus but was likely crushed by its atmosphere. Venera-7 became the first spacecraft to successfully soft-land on Venus on Dec. 15, 1970, sending back temperature data. Venera-8 landed on July 22, 1970, taking light measurements and confirming suitable levels for imaging. On Oct. 22, 1975, the Venera-9 lander returned the first image data from the surface of Venus before going out of range of the orbiting spacecraft 53 minutes later (and succumbing to harsh surface conditions after that) with Venera-10 landing three days later. Then, on March 1, 1982, Venera-13 landed on Venus, analyzing soil and capturing the first color images from the planet’s surface.
The image above is a section of a larger panorama. See the full image below:
If any of you remember this, back in Dec. 2010 Japan’s Venus Climate Orbiter spacecraft AKATSUKI (or Planet-C), after a five and a half month journey through space, failed to enter orbit around Venus due to a faulty thruster nozzle. It sailed right past the cloud-covered planet, going into orbit around the Sun. Fortunately, JAXA mission engineers were able to determine the cause of the problem and come up with some work-arounds for a second attempt when the spacecraft is aligned with Venus later this year.
NASA, SpaceX, Mars One… all (and others) are actively working on plans to send humans to the surface of Mars at some time within the next few decades. And while the first human exploration of the Red Planet will be a truly momentous and historic event in whatever fashion it ends up being – it will involve the first steps people make on another planet – getting humans safely to the surface of Mars and back will certainly not be a simple task… we still have yet to venture farther than our own Moon, after all.
To help develop the technologies needed and work out the logistics of traveling to Mars, NASA is proposing an Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) that would be sort of a “midpoint” in human spaceflight beyond Earth. The exact details of ARM won’t be nailed down until next year (2015) but in essence it will involve getting a small asteroid or a piece thereof into orbit around the Moon, where it can be examined and sampled by astronauts. But while ARM will certainly assist in practicing for advanced deep space missions, some NASA engineers are suggesting that we could do better, actually putting humans if not on at least above another planet with airships soaring the skies of Venus.
Launched in 2005, the European Space Agency’s Venus Express successfully entered orbit around our cloud-shrouded neighboring world. Now, after more than eight and a half years of scientific observations Venus Express has run out of fuel and will soon go gentle into that good night – that is if by “going gentle” you mean death-diving into the corrosive, sulfuric acid-laden atmosphere of an intensely overheated planet.
“While we are sad that this mission is ended, we are nevertheless happy to reflect on the great success of Venus Express as part of ESA’s planetary science program and are confident that its data will remain important legacy for quite some time to come.”
— Martin Kessler, Head of ESA Science Operations