Venyera 7: the first successful data transfer from the surface of another planet (Venus)
Country: Soviet Union
We have already described in our previous blog post what hellish conditions the first probe of the Earth faced when descending into the atmosphere of Venus. The landing was not an option in the case of Venyera 4. Four years later, however, the wait was over: Soviet engineers managed to land the unit on the surface of the planet. Specialists have redesigned, designed the landing unit to be even more resilient, already withstanding temperatures of 540 degrees. In the atmosphere of Venus, the transmission of the device (travelling at a speed of 11 and a half kilometres per second) was interrupted, but this was only probably caused by its overturning to its side. It was fantastic how Soviet scientists discovered almost 23 minutes of transmission based on capsule recordings, meaning it was the first transmission from the surface of another planet. It turned out that previous Soviet and American estimates proved to be correct regarding the temperature and the atmospheric pressure conditions prevailing on Venus, which is why Venyera 7 was able to send signals from Venus.
Luna 16: the first spacecraft to bring back samples from another celestial body (Moon)
Country: Soviet Union
280 hours after its launch, on September 20 1970, Luna 16 landed on the surface of the Moon. An hour after arriving at its destination, the structure released a drill that stopped at 35 millimetres after seven minutes (It was far from the achievement of Bruce Willis in the blockbuster Armageddon). Three days later, with a valuable lunar soil sample of 101 grams, Luna 16 weighing 34 kilograms, landed in Kazakhstan. The Soviets later shared samples with the French, GDR scholars, and even with the Iraqis.
Mariner 10: the first spacecraft to fly over multiple planets (Venus and Mercury)
As the last spacecraft of the Mariner series (originally designed for ten missions) the No. 10 unit was given the task to perform Mercury-related measurements. There were plenty of technical issues along the way, such as problems with the high-performance antenna and height control system, but NASA engineers didn’t give up. In January 1974, the image of the large orbiting comet Kohoutek was also the first of its kind in the history of terrestrial space technology. Flying past Venus, the unit sent nearly 4.000 images of the planet, then, using the gravity of Venus, headed for Mercury. On March 16, 1974, it approached Mercury and found during his measurements that the surface temperature of the planet fluctuated between -183 and +187 degrees. This ensured that Mercury was not suitable for human life in its present state.
Giotto: the first spacecraft to use the Earth's gravity
Country: Predecessor of the European Union.
Years: 1986, 1990, 1992
We have cheated a little because the EU is not a country, but a union of countries. Giotto, named after the famous Renaissance painter Giotto di Bondone of the 16th century, approached the comet Haley, which comes close to earth every 76 years, on March 13-14, 1986. It was the first real success of the European Space Agency (ESA). It was the first European spacecraft that had another big achievement: an amazingly interesting physical solution was used to exploit Giotto's potential. The device, which was put into “hibernation” mode in April 1986, was “awakened” in 1990 and with the help of the Earth’s gravity, it directed towards a new target; the comet Grigg-Skjellerup.
IKAROS: the first spacecraft to use only the solar wind to propel in outer space
IKAROS, which received its name after a tragic figure in Greek mythology, was not a usual spacecraft. It was the first structure in the world to contain an extraordinary 7.5-micrometre thin membrane layer. After detaching from the launch vehicle, the drum-shaped IKAROS slowly unloaded its 15-meter-diameter sun-sail on June 3, 2010. By June 10, the entire membrane had opened, and the small solar cells began to produce electricity. By November 2010, the unit managed to approach Venus and was the first device to demonstrate the feasibility of the concept of a solar propulsion spacecraft.