Since information didn’t exactly flow freely between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, it isn’t widely known that the Soviets took quite an interest in Venus in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. In fact, thirteen Venera probes (Venera is the Russian name for Venus) successful transmitted data from the atmosphere of Venus, and ten probes successfully landed on the planet’s surface. It’s easy to be somewhat dismissive of the Venera missions today until you consider how long ago it was that the Soviets were pulling this kind of thing off, and the fact that the pressure on the Venusian surface is 92 times that of Earth’s. (The longest any of the probes survived was two hours with the earliest spacecrafts being destroyed in only about 23 minutes.)
The Soviets accomplished several firsts with the Venera missions including:
- The first man-made device to enter the atmosphere of another planet.
- The first soft landing on another planet.
- The first probes to return images, radar maps, and even a sound recording from another planet.
The pin in the picture above was created by the Soviet Union in 1961 to commemorate the initial Venera 1 mission. It was an incredibly thoughtful gift from my publisher (47North) after the release of my novel Containment in which Venus plays a key role. (They also gave me a bottle of tequila, but that’s a different story.)
Venera 1 successfully launched on February 12th, and successfully transmitted data back to Earth on three different occasions. However, the fourth telemetry session was a failure, and the probe was essentially lost — probably due to the overheating of a solar-direction sensor.
Below is a picture of Venera 1 which I think has a great retro look to it. One could even be forgiven for mistaking the interplanetary probe for a Soviet robot assassin from an early James Bond film.