Image of Magellan orbiting Venus.
Click on image for full size
On May 4, 1989, Magellan was carried into space by the Atlantis space shuttle, which launched it toward Venus. It arrived on Aug. 10, 1990 and inserted itself into a highly elliptical orbit around the north and south poles.
Over the next 3 years, Magellan used radar to penetrate the dense cloud cover surrounding Venus and map its surface. With every orbit it sent back strips of data, which were put together by scientists back on Earth into a 98% complete global map. Because Magellan viewed the Venusian surface from varying angles, 3-dimensional images of the planet's terrain were also possible.
After studying Venus' gravitational field for a year, Magellan then plunged into its atmosphere, testing a new technique for controlling surface descent, called aerobraking. Although it was crushed by the planet's pressure, scientists learned valuable information that would be used in future missions.
You might also be interested in:
Radar is short for "radio detection and ranging". A transmitter sends pulses of high frequency radio waves. A radar echo shows up on a monitor and shows where the object is located.. A computer measures...more
Venus is one of the brightest objects in the sky, so it is clearly visible to the naked eye. It can be tricky to spot because it is always near the Sun. Because of this, it rises and sets with the Sun...more
The space shuttle Atlantis finished its last flight when it landed on May 26, 2010. NASA is retiring the whole fleet of space shuttle orbiters by the end of 2010. Discovery and Endeavor are the other two...more
The Hubble Space Telescope (HST) was one of the most important exploration tools of the past two decades, and will continue to serve as a great resource well into the new millennium. The HST found numerous...more
Driven by a recent surge in space research, the Apollo program hoped to add to the accomplishments of the Lunar Orbiter and Surveyor missions of the late 1960's. Apollo 11 was the name of the first mission...more
Apollo 12 was launched on Nov. 14, 1969, surviving a lightning strike which temporarily shut down many systems, and arrived at the Moon three days later. Astronauts Charles Conrad and Alan Bean descended...more
Apollo 15 marked the start of a new series of missions from the Apollo space program, each capable of exploring more lunar terrain than ever before. Launched on July 26, 1971, Apollo 15 reached the Moon...more