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he Space Race is considered the most ambitious competition that truly pushed humankind to a massive technological evolution. Although the Soviets will be remembered in history books for sending the first human into space, during this race the United States made more progress by being the first to land on the moon.

One interesting aspect of the Soviet Space Program is that their aim was never focused primarily on reaching the moon. For some reason, the Soviets wanted to reach Venus. At the end of the day, the moon is only Earth’s satellite which some people may not consider as a full-fledged planet but a satellite planet.

Venus seemed more ambitious and thinking big was the only thing that the Soviets knew. Taking a person there was a great challenge, not only because of the distance that would increase the risks of return but because of the extreme weather conditions present on Venus. The temperature on Venus is around 900 degrees Fahrenheit (480 Celcius), so any organism would die instantly.

The Venera Program

Space probes were adapted from the idea of satellites which were fairly easy to build and the biggest advantage is that they could be controlled remotely. The Venera project was inspired by Sputnik 1 which was the first satellite sent into space. This project had the aim of reaching Venus and taking photos once landed on the planet.

Photo of Venera 1 probe, 1961 (Source: DrewexMachina)

Venera 1 was the first prototype that seemed to have a lot of potential. The main problem faced by engineers was that they had to fit a lot of electronics to ensure such a long journey whilst still having control of the probe from such a far distance. The first probe ended up weighing 1,400 pounds (635 Kilograms), which meant that it would require a big rocket in order to reach such a far distance.

The first probe was launched on February 12, 1961, but due to some malfunction, it didn’t even make it out of Earth’s orbit. The second attempt with Venera 1 was better, but the probe failed about 62,000 miles (100,000 kilometers) from Venus. Venera 2 ended up being a lot heavier with the addition of extra instruments such as:

  • Barometer
  • Radar altimeter
  • Gas analyzer
  • Thermometers
  • Detachable pod
  • Many others

At the time this equipment was big and heavy compared to the modern versions today and they were needed in order to do proper scientific research on the planet, such as understanding extreme weather conditions. Venera 2 was launched on February 27, 1966, but when it was just 15,000 miles (24,000 Kilometers) shy of Venus, it overheated and the control station lost all control. No one knows what happened with that probe or where it could be today. Most probably many light-years away.

The production of Venera 3 showed a lot of ambition as the weight was lowered and many fail-safes had been integrated to ensure that the signal would not be lost. Venera 3 was actually the first spacecraft to crash into another planet, as it came in too fast and slammed into Venus on March 1, 1966.

Venera 4 had been projected in a very different way than previous models in order to give it that edge. The technologies that needed to be implemented within the probe had also been upgraded to be more compact and weighed less. A documentary was even created to show off to the world the creation of Venera 4 with the hopes that this would be the one to land and complete the mission set at the start of the project.

The probe was launched in 1967 and by the 18th of October, it entered Venuses atmosphere. However, due to the high heat, the probe started to melt and dismantle.

13th time’s the Charm

Many more attempts were made in a period of 30 years since the project had begun. The biggest problem turned out to be the harsh conditions on Venus. On February 5th, 1974 whilst the Soviet Union was still working on Venera 9, NASA managed to get their own probe into the atmosphere of Venus and take the first photo of the planet.

On Feb. 5, 1974, NASA’s Mariner 10 mission took this first close-up photo of Venus. (Source: NASA )

Although this was a big loss for the Soviet Union in the Space Race, it wasn’t the end as NASA didn’t manage to land on Venus. After many other attempts, Venera 13 was the one who managed to complete the mission. On March 1st, 1982 the probe managed to successfully land on Venus and it started taking photos of a panoramic view.

A panoramic view of the surface of Venus from the Venera 13 lander (Source: NASA)

After 2 hours, the probe succumbed to the heat and stopped working or transmitting any information. Despite the loss of so many probes, 30 years of time, and millions of dollars in costs the Soviet Union finally won a race in this whole competition. They were appreciated even by their competitors who saw this mission as near impossible due to the extreme weather conditions.

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