Such a system could circle the first man-made object to reach the Venusian regolith, Venera 7. After the catastrophic failure of their first attempts with more fragile landers, Soviet engineers realized that the evil twin of Earth was experiencing surface pressures that can crush a submarine, so they massively over-built their next probe. “It was basically an inch thick titanium sphere,” says Don P. Mitchell, a computer programmer and historian of the exploration of Venus in Russia. “They were like, ‘This time, damn it, we’re going to come to the surface.’ ‘
A space age child, Mitchell grew up seeing shoddy images from the Venera program “that looked like they had been photographed in a newspaper.” In 2000, a friend showed him a movie recording of Venera 9 and he realized that the probes were actually quite powerful. By contacting former Soviet scientists, he obtained raw data from the missions, processing it himself to produce fantastic images, which are now available. on his website.
Venera 7 did not include any cameras and was only a partial success. After making humanity’s first soft landing on another planet in the solar system, it flipped over, misaligning its antenna. A part responsible for switching between different instruments failed, and therefore the bad probe kept returning temperature readings over and over again. His batteries expired 23 minutes later.
In perhaps the coldest story in Cold War history, Mitchell recalls how the first NASA scientist to obtain the data from Venera 7, John Edgar Ainsworth, received the information from an agent from the CIA shortly after the lander landed. The American intelligence community had intercepted the signal from the Soviet robot using a radio telescope in Ethiopia. “Someone gave [Ainsworth] an envelope and said, “I can’t tell you where this came from. It was the Venera data, ”Mitchell says. Using this, the American researcher co-wrote an article on the probe’s descent through the bumpy atmosphere of Venus.
Russia has had more success with subsequent Venera probes, which returned the only photos and measurements of the Venusian surface we have so far. NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) have since orbited the neighboring planet, but no dedicated mission has been launched to Venus from American soil in 31 years . That may soon change. “We are potentially at the dawn of a new era of exploration of Venus,” says Paul Byrne, a planetary scientist at North Carolina State University and self-proclaimed Venus evangelist. Deeply informed and gregarious, Byrne is one of the many seekers who are helping to bring the load back to our sister world.
Astronomers have detected thousands of planets around other stars, some roughly the same size as Earth, which are located in just the right place for liquid water to exist on their surface. Although scientists have long believed that Venus is too close to the Sun to ever have been habitable, new models offer that the planet could have hosted oceans for nearly 3 billion years, while other data indicate that Venus could still be tectonically active today. A massive series of volcanic explosions or outgassing events may have dumped carbon dioxide into its atmosphere in the past, crushing its ability to thermoregulate and create its current hellish environment. “If that’s true, and Venus was ruined by a random coincidence and not because of the sun, we might be able to look at worlds closer to their parent systems,” Byrne says.
The list of other open questions about our brother includes the exact composition of the atmosphere, the nature of the large continent-like features on its surface, what is happening in its core, and what makes up the mysterious substance absorbing ultraviolet radiation in its the top part. cloud layers. Essentially, scientists want to study Venus from top to bottom, in and out, and from the distant past to the present day. “We need a research program to understand the planet,” Byrne says. “No one or two or five missions can answer all of these questions.”