Venus: 50 Years Since Our First Trip, and We’re Going Back

The planet Venus, as imaged by the Magellan 10 mission. Credit: NASA/JPL

The first spacecraft to reach the surface of another world was the Soviet Venera 3 probe. Venera 3 crash-landed on the surface of Venus on March 1, 1966, 50 years ago. It was the 3rd in the series of Venera probes, but the first two never made it.Venera 3 didn’t last long. It survived Venus’ blistering heat and crushing atmospheric pressure for only 57 minutes. But because of that 57 minutes, its place in history is cemented.With a temperature of 462 degree C. (863 F.,) and a surface pressure 90 times greater than Earth’s, Venus’ atmosphere is the most hostile one in the Solar System. But Venus is still a tantalizing target for exploration, and rather than letting the difficult conditions deter them, Venus is a target that NASA thinks it can hit.The Venus Landsail—called Zephyr—could be the first craft to survive the hostile environment on Venus. If approved, it would launch in 2023, and spend 50 days on the surface of Venus. But to do so, it has to meet several challenges.NASA thinks they have the electronics that can withstand the heat, pressure, and corrosive atmosphere of Venus. Their development of sensors that can function inside jet engines proves this, and is the kind of breakthrough that really helps to advance space exploration. They also have solar cells that should function on the surface of Venus.But the thick cloud cover will prevent the Zephyr’s solar cells from generating much electricity; certainly not enough for mobility. They needed another solution for traversing the surface of Venus: the land sail.Venus has very slow winds—less than one meter per second—but the high density of the atmosphere means that even a slow wind will allow Zephyr to move effectively around the Venusian surface. But a land sail will only work on a surface —> Read More