First attempts

Although both the US and USSR's first forays into interplanetary space had been accidental, the result of missed flybys of the Moon, the end of the 1950s saw NASA turn its Pioneer programme into a series of deliberate missions to investigate conditions away from Earth (see panel, opposite).

Meanwhile, Sergei Korolev was given approval to develop a series of planetary probes in late 1959, with the intention of sending a probe to Mars during the close approach late the following year. As the launch window approached, it became clear that it would coincide with a visit by Soviet premier

PLANETARY VISIONS

Until the 1960s, most people's ideas of other planets were inspired by the paintings of the visionary American artist Chesley Bonestell. His most famous work, Saturn Viewed From Titan, is shown here.

INCOMING DATA

Scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, builders of the Mariner probe series, pose with a stream of Venusian data in front of a chart showing Mariner 2's progress.

PLANETARY VISIONS

Until the 1960s, most people's ideas of other planets were inspired by the paintings of the visionary American artist Chesley Bonestell. His most famous work, Saturn Viewed From Titan, is shown here.

Khrushchev to the United States - the ideal opportunity for another Soviet spectacular.

But for the first time, luck was against the Soviets - in mid-October 1960, two attempts to launch probes on a Martian flyby mission ended in rocket failures. These were hushed up, but rumours leaked out, along with tales of a third, disastrous rocket explosion that was for a long time seen as another failed attempt to reach Mars. Even though this probe was actually destined for Venus, the reality was rather different (see p.64).

A few months later, around a close approach of Venus, the Soviets launched the first of their Venera probes. An initial failure was again covered up - it never left Earth orbit after its upper rocket stage failed - but the second attempt was on its way to Venus and trumpeted as another Soviet triumph when communications, embarrassingly, went dead.

VENERA 1

Far more sophisticated than any previous space probe, Venera 1 stood 2m (6 ft ft) tall, weighed some 643.5kg (l,416lb), and incorporated a variety of scientific instruments.

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