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Exploring Venus: Past, Present, and Future

Our closest planetary neighbor, Venus, hasn’t had the same limelight as some of the other planets in the Solar System.

But scientists recently announced they found phosphine gas in Venus’s atmosphere — a gas commonly associated with life on Earth.

ESA

Here’s a brief history of how Venus exploration has evolved, what’s happening right now, and where exploration might lead us in the future.

1960s

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NASA’s Mariner 2 became the first spacecraft to fly by another planet on December 14, 1962.

A few years later in 1967, the Soviet Union’s Venera 4 entered Venus’s atmosphere and became the first spacecraft to measure the atmosphere of another planet.

NASA

1970-80s

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These two decades were full of Venera spacecraft. Venera 9, for instance, showed us Venus’s surface for the first time in 1975.

Then, NASA’s Pioneer Venus 1 orbiter studied Venus for 14 years, mapping its surface with radar and finding huge chasms and a mountain taller than Everest. Its sister ship, Pioneer Venus 2, launched probes to Venus’s surface, too.

In the mid-80s, Veneras 13 and 14 recorded audio as they descended to Venus’s surface, giving humanity the first sounds from another world.

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1990s-present

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NASA’s Magellan spacecraft mapped the entire surface of Venus in the early 1990s.

On their way to study the gas giants, NASA’s Galileo spacecraft and later, the Cassini spacecraft, each flew by Venus. Scientists took advantage of these flybys to study the planet.

NASA

The European Space Agency got in on the Venus action in 2005, when it launched its Venus Express spacecraft. That mission lasted 8 years.

ESA

Venus’s only visiting spacecraft now is the Japanese Space Agency’s Akatsuki, launched in 2010.

JAXA

The Future

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Now, Venus is on everyone’s mind — including NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who said it’s time to set our sights on Venus in our search for alien life.

Some have even proposed missions using balloons to float a spacecraft in Venus’s dense atmosphere.

NASA/JPL

Russia is planning a new Venera mission, called Venera-D, to study Venus’s atmosphere and perhaps also its surface.

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“If this planet is active and is producing phosphine, and there is something that’s making it in the Venus atmosphere, then by God almighty, forget this Mars nonsense,” Paul Byrne, a planetary scientist at North Carolina State University, told the New York Times. “We need a lander, an orbiter, we need a program.”

Read more space stories here.

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