NASA and Russia’s Space Research Institute has resumed discussions about together exploration mission to Venus, which could include a lander. NASA has not flown a mission dedicated to Venus since its Magellan probe, from 1990 to 1994, which mapped 98% of the planet at a resolution of 100 meters or better.
For Russia, a new planetary mission has great significance. Russia and its forerunner space agencies in the USSR have not had a successful planetary exploration mission since 1985 when its Vega 1 and Vega 2 probes flew by Venus and sampled its atmosphere en route to Halley’s Comet.
After the failures in the early 1990s, Russia’s space agency conducted no planetary missions at all in the late 1990s and early 2000s, following the disintegration of the USSR. Its first mission after, to the Martian moon of Phobos in 2011, was lost shortly after launching.
Venus was named after the Roman goddess of love and beauty, and surely Russia has had a long affinity for the planet closest to Earth. Whereas NASA has focused more of its robotic exploration struggles on Mars, Russia has similarly focused on Venus. But not always with success.
In between 1961 and 1964 the USSR attempted to launch no fewer than nine probes to Venus, from Sputnik 7 to Zond 1, and all failed. Most of the failures came due to rocket issues. Then, in 1966, the Venera 2 spacecraft flew to within 24,000 km of the planet, but communications were lost with the spacecraft as it neared Venus.
Later in 1966 the Venera 3 spacecraft attempted to land on Venus, but it was crushed by Venus’ very thick atmosphere, with a pressure 92 times that of Earth. All of the probes survived less than an hour with the hellish surface pressures and average surface temperature above 460 degrees Celsius.
Eventually, from 1970 to 1975, in what may be viewed the crowning glory of Russia’s planetary exploration history, the Venera 7, 8, 9, and 10 probes all landed successfully on Venus. The Venera 7 mission marked the first successful landing on another planet. Venera 9 returned the first photos of the stark Venusian surface.
Now, by partnering with NASA, Russia hopes to share the costs. In turn, NASA has a number of research goals it’d like to execute with a modern orbiter and possibly a short lived lander.