Look out, Venus! The Russians are coming to open your shell.
Venus, forever shrouded in a protective layer of clouds, may soon be compelled to give up her secrets to a 1400 pound probe. Launched by the Soviet Union on the 11th, it is the first mission from Earth specifically designed to investigate “Earth’s Twin.”
The solar-powered ship is armed with a panoply of scientific instruments, from cameras to spectrometers to magnetometers. It’s also got a cargo of Soviet pennants and medals to deposit on the Venusian surface a la Luna 2. It will reach the vicinity of Venus in three months; a full report might not be forthcoming until 1962. That may seem a long while to wait for results, but one should remember that science takes time—even for nearby probes. For instance, NASA is only just now processing the data from Explorer 8 (launched into Earth orbit last November, it fell silent just after Christmas.)
The Soviet probe (some reports call it ‘Venera’–Russian for Venus) is not the first deep space mission. That honor goes to the American Pioneer 5). Venera is the first ship to be launched from an orbital rocket; the Soviets report that they launched a larger vehicle into orbit, and that Venera took off from there.
This is very interesting given last week’s mystery launch, dubbed Sputnik 7. As you may recall, the USSR launched a seven ton craft into orbit on the 4th, reportedly to do some near Earth space science. No beep-beeps have been detected from the vehicle (though its presence has been confirmed by Western astronomers), and the Russians have been unusually quiet about the launch. That usually indicates some kind of failed mission.
Now, my daughter has an interesting theory. She believes that it is actually a spy satellite, and that the Soviet caginess is a ploy to lull the West into thinking the mission had been a bust.
On the other hand, the Venera plus rocket plus fuel combination must have weighed far more than three quarters of a ton. Is it possible that Sputnik 7 was really Venera 0, and the Venus probe never detached from its mothership?
Maybe the Russians will tell us…in about a hundred years.