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Fri Oct 4, 2019, 02:18 AM

Into the great unknown: The Soviet Union's secretive Venera 7 probe

Into the great unknown: The Soviet Union's secretive Venera 7 probe
By Nick Lavars
October 03, 2019

From Fukushima to the darkest corners of the ocean, robots built for extreme environments and an appetite for discovery continue to enlighten our understanding of places too dangerous to tread. Those launched into deep space may be the most daring examples, continually pushing the limits of human ingenuity and expanding our understanding of the universe. In this series New Atlas will be profiling space probes, both past and present, tasked with pushing the boundaries of science by leading us into the great unknown. This week: a spacecraft developed under a veil of Soviet secrecy to survive the surface of Venus.

Name: Venera 7
Launched: 1970
Subject of study: Venus
Current location: On Venus, in some form

As our next-door neighbor and the focus of science fiction writers imagining a world beneath the cloud tops brimming with jungles, oceans and dinosaurs, Venus held a certain allure for astronomers throughout the 20th century. When American probes began skimming past the planet during the early stages of the space race, they quickly put to rest any hopes of an inhabitable environment, but this did little to deter a secretive Soviet ambition to get up close and personal with the second planet from the Sun.

Venera, (Russian for Venus), was the name given to the series of space probes the Soviet Union built between 1961 and 1984 to study Venus, both its surface environment and atmosphere. This meant some were designed to observe it from afar and some were designed to land on the planet’s surface, a feat that had never been accomplished at the program’s outset.

Venera 1VA was the Soviets Union’s first attempt to visit Venus in 1961 and failed to leave Earth orbit, though the world was not to know that at the time. The country’s preference was to keep its space exploits in-house until they amounted to success, and so the failed Venera 1A mission was publicly given the name of “Heavy Sputnik,” an apparent successor to the world’s first artificial satellite famously launched in 1957.

While the probes to immediately follow the doomed Venera 1A are believed to have actually reached Venus, their telemetry failed long before then. It wasn’t until 1967 and the launch of Venera 4 that the Soviet Union began to reap some reward for its efforts. That probe became the first spacecraft to relay data back to Earth from another planet’s atmosphere, before it crumbled under the intense pressures on Venus’ surface soon after.


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