On this day in 1966...
The Soviet probe Venera 3 successfully lands on the surface of Venus. It’s the first time anything man-made makes contact with an extraterrestrial surface beyond the Moon.
The Soviet Union originally designed the vehicle to explore Mars, but repurposed three of them as Venera probes to visit Venus. In February 1966, Venera 2 managed to fly by the planet at a distance of 15,000 miles, but its instruments failed before it could send the data back to Earth. The probe eventually began orbiting the sun.
The Soviets got much closer on their next attempt. Venera 3 was supposed to land a probe on the planet’s surface, collecting and sending back data as it descended toward the planet with a parachute.
The probe weighed around a ton and was equipped with instruments to gather data on the temperature, pressure and composition of the Venusian atmosphere, which it probably did.
Before reaching the atmosphere, Venera 3 had already communicated with Earth 93 times, but ground control lost contact with the spacecraft on Feb. 16, just before its probe reached the atmosphere. The probe landed on Venus on March 1, becoming the first Earthly craft to touch alien terrain.
The following Venera missions became more and more successful, as the Soviets learned from their earlier attempts. Venera 4 was the first spacecraft to measure the atmosphere of another planet. In 1970, despite a parachute failure at the last minute, Venera 7 landed mostly intact and became the first probe to transmit data back to Earth from another planet.
Venera 13 transmitted the photo below and 13 others from the Venusian surface March 1, 1982, exactly six years after Venera 3 landed.
In all, 14 Soviet landers made it to the surface of Venus, and the United States landed the Pioneer Venus Multiprobe in 1978. Earthlings have also sent landers and rovers to Mars. In 2005 the Huygens probe successfully disengaged from the Cassini spacecraft and landed on the surface of the Saturnian moon Titan. Probes have also made contact with two asteroids and a comet. -Wired.com