Imagine spending years to build a spacecraft that will, in a best case scenario, work for one hour…
How’s that for an introduction?
It’s May 16, the birthday of Janet.
Ms. Jackson, if you’re nasty.
And it’s also the 50th anniversary of an overlooked but important visit to a fairly nasty place: the planet Venus.
It’s overlooked for a number of reasons.
One, it was part of the Soviet space program called Venera, and as the Soviet Union itself has faded into history, its space missions have also become more and more obscure.
And the Venera missions are easy to overlook because they were doomed.
Venus, you see, is not a hospitable place for living things or for spacecraft.
The atmosphere is thick and traps heat from the sun; it’s basically a planet-sized greenhouse.
Carl Sagan famously called Venus “the one place in the solar system most like Hell.”
And the mission that landed on Venus 50 years ago today, Venera 5, figured out exactly how hot the Venusian hellscape could get.
This was a pretty impressive feat, because here you have scientists who have to design probes that are, if they’re lucky, going to get whatever data they could before the planet’s enormous heat and pressure crush and/or melt them down.
Venera 5 sent its lander down and, for the next 52 and a half minutes, learned everything it could about the planet’s atmosphere, before breaking contact with Earth.
And in that nearly one hour of atmospheric sampling, it came back with a jaw-dropping finding.
The temperature it measured on Venus was 986° F.
The Venera project continued for more than a decade, eventually sending back lots more information about Venus, including pictures of its scorched surface.
A nice planet, but you wouldn’t want to live there.
But why travel all the way to another planet when you can get your outer space on with a trip to Oregon?
Today is day one of McMinnville, Oregon’s annual UFO Festival.
McMinnville was the site of a UFO sighting in May of 1950 by Evelyn and Paul Trent.
Their photos of a flying saucer in the sky got national attention, and the town got the nickname “Saucerville” from the national media.
Today the annual festival has UFOologists and speakers, but there’s also food and beer tasting, bands, movies, even an Alien Abduction Dash Fun Run.
Venera 5 (NASA)
Yes, We’ve Seen the Surface of Venus (Popular Science)
Venus photo via NASA/JPL-Caltech