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The 1970s were a bountiful time for Soviet planetary exploration including 9 probes to the Moon, 6 spacecraft to Venus, and 6 missions to Mars. Many of these missions included many firsts.

After the demise of their manned lunar program, Russia continued their lunar exploration with unmanned devices, possibly as a way to show the world that unmanned probes were cheaper than manned flights. Their unmanned lunar program included both sample return missions and remotely controlled rovers. The Soviets accomplished three successful lunar sample return missions - Luna 16 (1970), Luna 20 (1972), and Luna 24 (1976). Many of the samples recovered were exchanged with both American and French scientists for analysis. They also accomplished two successful remote controlled lunar rover missions - Lunokhod 1 attached to Luna 17 in 1970 and Lunokhod 2 attached to Luna 21 in 1973 - something that the United States was not able to do for over 25 years until 1997 with the Mars Pathfinder mission. Each Russian rover mission lasted between 4 months and 1 year after landing on the Moon’s surface returning thousands of pictures.

The premiere explorer of Venus is still the Soviet Union/Russia today. This is proved not by the number of probes sent to Venus, but by the quality and accomplishments of these missions. The first probes sent in the 1970s were planetary probes that hopefully might reach the Venusian surface. These included Venera 7 (1970) and Venera 8 (1972) which indeed both penetrated the Venus atmosphere farther than any previous spacecraft. Venera 8 is believed to actually have landed on the surface before succumbing to Venus's heat and pressure. Venera 9, launched in 1975, was Venus's first man-made orbiter which sent down a probe that successfully transmitted the first pictures of that planet's surface. Subsequent probes, Venera 10, 11 and 12, performed the same missions. The United States has not been able to duplicate this feat yet.

The Soviet Union's Mars program sent 6 spacecraft to that planet during the 1970s, Mars 2,3,4,5 and 6. Their accomplishments include the first object to land on Mars (Mars 2 and 3) but not much more than that. Russia had better success with Venus, and they concentrated on that.



Primary Author: Nicholas M. Short, Sr. email:

Collaborators: Code 935 NASA GSFC, GST, USAF Academy
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