The planet Venus is named after the Roman goddess of love and beauty. An orbital average of 108,208,930 kilometers places it second closest to the Sun in order of distance, while a diameter of 12,104 kilometers places it sixth in the Solar System in order of size.

Comparisons between Earth and our closest neighbor are inevitable, after all the two planets are roughly the same size and mass but here real similarities end. Venus has no moon and unlike Earth is completely enshrouded in cloud. Early preconceptions took this to mean that Venus was a wet planet perhaps similar to Earth during its Jurassic period, humid, warm, damp and covered in lush jungle. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

Venus has been revealed to be an exceptionally uninviting place. Atmospheric pressure at the surface is equivalent to that found at a depth of 1 kilometer in Earth's oceans. The atmosphere itself is mainly carbon dioxide (96.5%) and the clouds are opaque, highly reflective and composed of sulphuric acid. This combined with a mean surface temperature of 462 Celsius, hot enough to melt lead, makes the likelihood of finding life of any kind slim indeed.

Venus has been the target of more terrestrial spacecraft than any other planet in the Solar System other than Mars:

(NASA) Mariner 1, the first spacecraft of the Mariner program and intended for a Venus flyby, was aborted after veering off course shortly after take-off July 22, 1962.

Mariner 2 holds the title for first successful interplanetary mission, passing 34,833 km above the Venusian surface December 14, 1962.

Mariner 5, originaly intended as a backup for the Mariner 4 Mars mission, was refitted for Venus. Launched from Cape Canaveral on June 14, 1967, it passed by our sister planet at an altitude of 3,990 km (2,480 miles) on October 19, 1967, shedding new light on Venus, its atmosphere and magnetic field along with conditions in interplanetary space.

Mariner 10 launched on November 3, 1973, passed Venus on its way to Mercury February 5, 1974, closest approach during its flyby 5,768 km. Following three flybys of the Solar System's innermost planet, its transmitter shut down, its electronics probably damaged by solar radiation it still orbits the Sun cold and silent.

The Pioneer Venus project consisted of two different missions. The Venus Orbiter entered orbit around Venus on December 4, 1978, and for the next 13 years studied the atmosphere and mapped the surface. The Venus Multiprobe (four probes) entered the Venusian atmosphere on December 9, 1978, sending back data on the atmosphere and clouds before being destroyed by friction.

Magellan, launched May 4, 1989, used radar imaging to compile detailed maps of Venus from orbit before descending (intentionally) into the Venusian atmosphere at mission's end.

Messenger made two flybys of Venus in 2006 and 2007, using the planet to slow its trajectory prior to an orbital insertion of Mercury in 2011.

Galileo used Venus for a gravity assist on February 10,1990, on its way to Jupiter.

(NASA/ESA/ASI) Cassini-Huygens used Venus for a gravity assist on April 26, 1998, and June 24, 1999, on its way to Saturn.

(ESA) The European Space Agency's Venus Express, presently in orbit, is engaged in studying Venus' atmosphere, clouds and surface characteristics.

(USSR) Sputnik 7, 19, 20, 21, all failed/lost early 1960s.

Cosmos 21, 27, 96, 167, 359, 482, all failed/lost 1960s early 1970s.

Venera 1 did in fact flyby Venus (the first spacecraft to do so) May 19,1961, but contact had been lost 7 days after launch.

Zond 1 was the second Soviet probe to reach Venus July 14, 1964, but contact had been lost en route.

Venera 1964a and 1964b failed to reach Earth orbit early 1960s.

Venera 1965a failed.

Venera 2 ceased to operate while en route.

Venera 3 probably crashed while attempting a landing March 1, 1966, but confirmation was impossible because of communication failure.

Venera 4 entered the Venusian atmosphere on October 18, 1967, and continued to transmit data to an altitude of 25 kilometers.

Venera 5 entered the Venusian atmosphere on May 16, 1969, transmitting data for 53 minutes to an altitude of 26 km.

Venera 6 entered the Venusian atmosphere on May 17, 1969, transmitting data for 51 minutes to an altitude of 10 to 12 km.

Venera 7 entered the Venusian atmosphere on December 15, 1970, landing hard shortly thereafter (the first terrestrial craft to touch down on another planet) a weak 23 minute signal returning temperature readings of 475 degrees Celsius (887 F).

Venera 8 entered the Venusian atmosphere on July 22, 1972, transmitting data until landing in what is now called the Vasilisa Region. Transmission continued for another 50 minutes 11 seconds.

Venera 9 entered the orbit of Venus on October 22, 1975. Consisting of an orbiter (the first spacecraft to orbit the planet) and lander (the first to return images [black and white] from the surface of another planet).

Venera 10 entered the orbit of Venus on October 25, 1975, as with Venera 9 it consisted of an orbiter and a lander (the second to send back black and white images from the surface of another planet.

Venera 11's lander entered the Venusian atmosphere on December 25, 1978, landing softly shortly thereafter. Instruments on board (some of which failed) studied atmospheric temperatures and composition. The flight platform relayed the data for 95 minutes before eventualy moving out of range.

Venera 12 mission almost identical to Venera 11.

Venera 13 consisted of a cruise stage and a descent vehicle. On March 1, 1982, after seperating, the descent vehicle plunged into the Venusian atmosphere landing safely shortly thereafter. The lander survived for 127 minutes, taking samples of the surface and colour images of its surroundings the data transmitted to the cruise stage which acted as a relay as it passed by the planet.

Venera 14 mission almost identical to Venus 13.

Venera 15 and 16 were identical in both construct and mission. They were inserted into a nearly polar orbit a day apart (Venera 15 on October 10, 1983, Venera 16 on October 11, 1983). Together they imaged about 25% of the Venusian surface over an 8 month period.

Vega 1 and Vega 2 were identical spacecraft designed for a dual mission, to visit both Venus and Halley's Comet which was passing through the inner Solar System. On June 11 and June 15, 1985, the two craft each dropped a Venera-style probe (Vega 1's deployed prematurely) along with a balloon supported aerial robot into Venus' upper atmosphere. The balloons achieved equilibrium at an altitude of around 53 kilometers and remained operational for around 46 hours travelling thousands of kilometers. The two flyby spacecraft using a gravitational assist courtesy Venus continued on to Halley's Comet.

(JAXA) AKATSUKI (Planet-C) a spacecraft originally slated to rendevous with Venus December 2010 achieved, after failing the first time, success with a second try in 2015. If further success follows the probe will continue with its mission, complementing ESA's Venus Express, its job detect and observe such things as lightning, airglow and volcanic activity along with studying the atmosphere and gaining a better understanding of the mechanisms that control atmospheric circulation. [1]

[1] Launched together with AKATSUKI was IKAROS (Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation Of The Sun) a solar-sail experiment, its mission to ascertain whether a spacecraft can fly solely by solar powered sail and that thin film solar cells can generate power, and Shin'en (UNISEC) a Japanese student spacecraft which was intended to make a Venus flyby six or seven months out. On December 8, 2010, IKAROS flew past Venus at about 50,200 miles (80,800 km) completing its mission before entering its extended operation phase. Shin'en suffered comunication failure and was lost shortly after launch.

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