Venus to Venus: Highlights from History, and When We Go Go Back

Carl Sagan once said that the planet Venus is the most like hell in our solar system. So when are we going back?

Astronomers reported Monday detecting a chemical in acidic Venusian clouds, phosphine, which could be a possible sign of life. Some planetary scientists are itching to return to another planet of the Sun, especially those who feel it has long been overlooked in favor of Mars and other destinations.

“This planet is active and producing phosphine, and something that is making it into Venus’s atmosphere, so by God Almighty, forget this Mars nonsense,” said Paul Byrne, of the University of North Carolina Planets are scientists. “We need a lander, an orbiter, we need a program.”

The journey of Venus is not easy. Its carbon-dioxide-rich atmosphere is 90 times denser than ours and has an average temperature of 800 degrees Fahrenheit. Its surface pressure is sufficient to crush some submarines.

But this has not stopped manned space programs from trying. About 40 robotic spacecraft launched by governments on Earth have tried to travel to Venus in one way or another. Here are the chances of a rapid return to the planet to find out what is going on in those clouds, along with previous visits to Venus.

In 1961, the Soviet space program began an attempt to locate Venus. In the decades that followed, it shot dozens of spacecraft toward the world, sometimes referred to as Earth’s twin. While the Soviet search for Venus began with many misfires, the country became the first country to land a spacecraft in another world, and not long after, the first country to take pictures from the surface of another planet. His engineering achievements were important even by modern standards.

After seeing their first round of spacecraft sent into the tin-like atmosphere, the Soviets realized how extreme the pressure on Vanessa was. This trial and error led to the creation of a five-tonne metal spacecraft, which withstood immense surface pressure, for only one hour.

In 1967, Venera 4 became the first spacecraft to measure the atmosphere of another planet, detecting large amounts of carbon dioxide, which causes the lifeless Venusian greenhouse effect.

Then in 1975, the country’s Venera 9 probe became the first to take pictures from the surface of another planet. The world officially met Venus. The images and later sent missions unearthed a planet that was truly none other: broken terrain under the mist, blue-green light. The planet we thought might be covered in oceans and for ourselves was an alien world with a rain of poison.

Later missions of the Venera series in the 1980s gave scientists a better understanding of the planet’s geological processes. Both Venera 11 and 12 detected large amounts of lightning and thunder as they traveled to the surface. Both Venera 13 and 14 were equipped with microphones that documented the sound of their descent on the surface, making them the first spacecraft to record audio from another planet.

In 1985, the Soviet Union concluded its Venus encounters with the Twin Vega spacecraft, each releasing large balloons loaded with scientific instruments that could demonstrate the potential of floating in the planet’s clouds.

The slow pace of the Soviet space program towards the end of the Cold War launched Venus. While the Russian space program has discussed future exploration of Venus, its concept has not moved away from the drawing board.

While Mars has always seemed like the apple of the eye of American space planners, the Mariner and Pioneer programs of the 1960s and ’70s made time for Venus.

The Mariner was the first American spacecraft to make Venus in 1962. This determined that the temperature was colder in the clouds, but extremely warm on the surface.

In 1978, Pioneer Missions took a closer look at American researchers. The pair first orbited the planet for about 14 years, which revealed a lot about the mysterious Venusian atmosphere. It also noticed that the surface was smoother than Earth, and Venus had little or perhaps no magnetic field. A second Pioneer mission sent several probes into Venus’s atmosphere, which returned information about the composition of clouds and surface radar readings.

NASA’s Magellan entered orbit in 1990 and spent four years mapping the surface and finding evidence of plate tectonics. It was discovered that about 85 percent of the surface was involved in older lava flows, hinting at significant past and possible current volcanic activity.

It was also the last of American visitors, although many NASA spacecraft have used Venus as a catapult as they set the course for other destinations.

Venus Express was launched in 2005 by the European Space Agency. It orbited the planet for eight years and saw that it is still geologically active.

The only guest on Earth from the planet right now is Akatsuki, which was launched by Japan in 2010. The investigation missed its meeting with Venus when its engine failed to catch fire. As of 2015, the mission managers operated it on a course to orbit and study the planet.

It has transformed how scientists view our cloud. In its study of the physics of the layers of Venus’ dense cloud, the mission has revealed disturbances in gravitational waves in the planet’s winds, as well as equatorial jet streams in its atmosphere.

Several missions have been proposed on Venus, and some space agencies have announced ambitions to visit the planet. But it is difficult to say if anyone will travel.

India’s space agency has proposed a mission called Shukrayaan-1, which will orbit the planet and mainly focus on the chemistry of the atmosphere.

Peter Beck, founder of Rocket Lab, a private company launched in New Zealand, has launched about a dozen rockets into space, which have recently spoken of sending a small satellite to the planet.

NASA has considered several proposals for Venus over the past decade, including two in 2017 that were finalists for NASA’s Discovery Program, which has previously sent explorers to the Moon, Mars, Mercury and other destinations. But the agency opted for a pair of asteroid missions instead.

Also in 2017, for the larger, more expensive New Frontiers competition, NASA considered a Venus in situ composition Investigation, or a Venus mission called Waiki, which sought to place two landers on the planet’s surface. It was passed for Dragonfly, which would send a plutonium-powered drone to fly on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon.

However, NASA provided funding for some of the technologies that Vixi would need. And Venus’ supporters may have a new lawyer inside NASA. Loki S. Glaze, Vicky’s lead investigator, is now the director of the planetary science division at NASA.

The agency will have another opportunity to choose the Venus mission for funding in the next round of its discovery program.

Two Venus spacecraft, named DAVINCI + and VERITAS, are combating proposed missions to Neptune’s moon Triton or Jupiter’s volcanic moon Io. NASA can select two of the four finalists. And there may be other possibilities for visitors to Venus.

“We should also recognize that Venus is a destination that we can reach even with small missions,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, head of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

Kenneth Chang contributed reporting.