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:
A version of the view reformatted to human perspective by Don P. Mitchell can be seen here.
The 760-kg (1,675-lb) Venera-13 touched down at 7.5 South, 303 East, east of Phoebe Regio at 03:57 UTC on March 1, 1982. It survived on the surface for 2 hours and 7 minutes, which may not sound like much but was nearly four times longer than was planned!
The lander’s series of eight 360-degree photos showed a landscape of orange-brown rocks and loose soil, with soil being blown onto the lander at a rate suggesting a wind speed of 1 to 2 km/hr. The sky looked orange and the horizon appeared to be only about 100 meters (109 yards) away, possibly due to a mirage. (Source)
Venera-13 also made the first study of Venus’ soil, showing similarities to terrestrial leucitic basalt with a high potassium content (source) and also measured a surface pressure of 89 times that found on Earth at sea level.
Venera-13’s twin, Venera-14, landed not far away four days later on March 5, 1982. It also performed soil analysis and captured images before falling silent 57 minutes later. It was the last spacecraft to capture images from Venus’ surface.
See more images from the Venus missions reprocessed by Don P. Mitchell here, and read more about the difficulties of sending robots to Venus in this article from Smithsonian Air & Space. Also, see more expertly reprocessed Venera images by Ted Stryk here.