Moon and Planets

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Moon and Planets

There’s a beautiful conjunction at first light tomorrow — a line-up of the Moon and the planets Venus and Mars. Venus is the “morning star.” Mars is much fainter, but it’s almost directly between Venus and the Moon, so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding it.

The Moon, Venus, and Mars are the closest worlds to Earth. Not surprisingly, they’re also the most often explored. To date, space agencies have dispatched more than 200 missions to them. And the success rate is about 50-50.

The Moon has been the target of the most missions — more than a hundred, depending on how you count them. That’s included fly-bys, orbiters, landers, and rovers, plus the astronaut-carrying Apollo missions.

Mars is in second place. Again, it depends on how you count them, but roughly 30 missions have been fully or partially successful, with a similar number of failures.

Venus has been targeted fewer times, but with a higher success rate — roughly two dozen successes, and fewer than 20 failures. In addition, several craft have studied Venus while using its gravity to boost them to other planets.

Most of the failures came in the early years of space exploration. The success rate has been far higher since then. That should come as encouraging news for the folks who send out missions today. Space agencies are planning to send dozens of craft to the Moon, Mars, and Venus through the end of this decade — emissaries to our close neighbors.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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