Exploring Venus: The Soviet Triumphs and Challenges

Noah Silverbrook

Updated Thursday, June 6, 2024 at 8:10 AM CDT

Exploring Venus: The Soviet Triumphs and Challenges

The Soviet Venera Missions

The Soviet Union led the charge in the exploration of Venus, dedicating significant resources to this endeavor while the United States focused on Mars. The Venera missions were a series of space probes developed by the Soviets, which aimed to land on Venus and send data back to Earth. Out of thirteen attempts, ten probes successfully reached the surface, marking a significant achievement in space exploration.

These missions began with orbital probes, followed by parachute probes, and eventually the Venera 7 lander, which made history by reaching the surface despite a parachute failure. The Soviet Vega probes also contributed to this legacy by dropping landers on Venus during a flyby mission to Halley's Comet. This series of missions provided invaluable data about Venus, despite the extreme challenges posed by the planet's environment.

Extreme Surface Conditions

Venus is one of the most hostile environments in the solar system, with surface temperatures soaring to 467°C (872°F) and atmospheric pressure reaching 93 bar (1,350 psi), similar to the pressure found 900 meters underwater on Earth. In addition to the intense heat and pressure, Venus's atmosphere contains opaque clouds of sulfuric acid, which cover the entire planet.

These extreme conditions limited the survival time of the Venera probes to between 23 minutes and two hours. The probes, designed as spherical pressure vessels similar to deep-diving bathyspheres, were built to withstand the enormous surface pressure. However, the harsh environment caused the probes to start melting due to high pressure, temperature, and corrosive chemicals.

Innovative Cooling and Power Solutions

To manage the extreme heat on Venus, the Venera probes used Lithium Nitrate as a phase-change coolant. This innovative solution helped the probes function long enough to send valuable data back to Earth. Despite these efforts, the probes' reliance on battery power limited their operational lifespan.

In the 1970s, a study proposed using a plutonium radio-thermal generator (RTG) for a year-long Venus mission. However, the RTG's efficiency would be low due to the hot environment. More recent NASA studies have explored burning lithium in Venus's atmosphere to generate power for a week-long mission. These innovative power solutions highlight the ongoing efforts to overcome the challenges posed by Venus's extreme environment.

Future Exploration and Technological Advances

Advances in technology today could potentially lead to the development of more survivable probes for Venus. There are proposals to build floating probes to study Venus's atmosphere, where conditions are less hostile higher up. These floating probes could provide a longer operational lifespan and gather more comprehensive data about the planet's atmosphere.

Despite the extreme challenges, humanity has managed to get a few probes to the surface of Venus that lasted long enough to send data back. The Soviet Venera missions stand as a testament to human ingenuity and determination in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. With continued advancements in technology, future missions could unlock even more secrets of our neighboring planet, Venus.

Noticed an error or an aspect of this article that requires correction? Please provide the article link and reach out to us. We appreciate your feedback and will address the issue promptly.

Check out our latest stories