THE FIRST JOURNEYS
Venus, the closest planet and a sister world to Earth, being similar in size and mass, beckoned as a reasonable and pragmatic first objective. Success, however, was literally hit and miss. Venera 1, launched by the Soviets on 12 February 1961, failed when radio contact was lost two weeks after launch.
The probe missed the planet by 60,000 miles (97,000 km) and went into orbit around the Sun. A similar fate awaited Venera 2, while Venera 3 crashed into Venus. Not until Venera 4 would the Soviets successfully rendezvous with Venus, in October 1967, but the capsule that was supposed to make a soft landing was lost.
The Americans fared better with Mariner 2, a flyby mission to Venus, launched in August 1962. Mariner's instruments studied the planet's atmosphere and measured its lead-melting surface temperatures. The probe also discovered that Venus did not have a magnetic field or radiation belts.
The Soviets continued their efforts to land a spacecraft on Venus with Venera 7 and 8, launched in 1970 and 1972. Both capsules made it to the surface and transmitted data confirming Venus's extreme temperatures and pressures. A few years later, in 1975, Venera 9 and 10 were the first spacecraft to return images successfully from another planet's surface. Like the other kinds of data, the images were transmitted via radio beams.