Soviet Rocket to Venus

Soviet Rocket to Venus

During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union competed in every field, including weapons, science and technology. Another huge part of the rivalry consisted of space and space travel. The space race of the 1960s was nothing short of epic; the U.S. and Soviet Union could compete over a plethora of first, such as first person in space, first person to walk on the moon, etc. A less glamorized, but equally important, goal was to reach and land on the planet Venus. Venus, though very close to Earth and similar in size is not nearly as welcoming as our home planet. With a carbon dense atmosphere, temperatures and pressure on the planet are treacherous. The Soviet Union would spend millions of dollars, embarking on several missions that attempted to land on the harsh, hot Venus surface. These projects would be named after the Russian name for Venus, Venera and would begin with the unsuccessful first mission of the Venera 1.

In 1961, the Soviet Union made its first attempts to conquer Venus with the Venera 1 space probe. On February 12, 1961 the Venera 1 launched with a relatively simply mission: do a flyby of Venus. The probe was the first of its kind and its model was considered the standard for the modern planetary probe from that point forward. The probe had a wide variety of new capabilities and features. Venera one was fitted with sensors to measure solar wind and cosmic radiation. It also boasted of being the first probe to be launched from orbit with a four stage engine. The Venera was also one of the first probes to be spin stabilized and have the capability to perform mid-course corrections. The early stages of the probe’s journey were very successful, but shortly after being the first vessel to confirm the presence of solar wind throughout deep space, the Venera 1 lost contact with its Soviet handlers on February 27. Venera 1 passed within 100,000 km of Venus, before entering an orbit around the sun, where it remains today, still sending out weak signals.

The launch of Venera 1 was a very important point in the history of Venus’s exploration. Although the probe was unsuccessful at its initial mission, it was a very successful piece of technology that implemented a variety of new design improvements. The Venera 1 would be followed by more than a dozen other Venera probes in the decades to come. Although under heavy competition from NASA’s Pioneer 5 and Mariner programs, the Soviet Union would eventually beat out the competition and reach their goal of entering the atmosphere in 1967, as well as landing on the surface in 1970. The Venera project would go on to yield a variety of other firsts, which were pivotal points of pride during the Cold War space race. Venera probes would be the first to enter the atmosphere of another planet, first to land on another planet, as well as being the first to provide color photographs of Venus’s surface.





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