The Space Race was all about politics. Both the United States and the Soviet Union were trying to impress the rest of the world with their technological prowess. Without that race, though, we\’d know a lot less about the worlds of the solar system.
Consider Venus, our closest planetary neighbor. The Soviets launched almost a score of successful Venus missions. And 50 years ago this week, two of those craft parachuted through Venus’s atmosphere. They told us a lot about the layers of clouds that blanket Venus, and about the clear skies below them.
Venera 5 entered Venus’s atmosphere on May 16th, 1969, with Venera 6 following it the next day.
Both of them drifted toward the surface for almost an hour. They measured temperatures, pressures, and the sky’s brightness. They also measured the composition of the atmosphere — mostly carbon dioxide, with a little nitrogen, water vapor, and other components.
Venera 5 descended to about 15 miles before it was killed by the intense temperature and pressure — more than 600 degrees at that altitude, with a pressure of about 25 times the surface pressure on Earth. And Venera 6 survived down to about seven miles. They provided a good profile of conditions in Venus’s atmosphere — observations made possible by the Space Race.
And Venus is in view in the dawn sky right now, although it’s getting ready to disappear. It’s the “morning star,” quite low in the east about a half hour before sunrise.
Script by Damond Benningfield