Answers to the Space Exploration Quiz
Well, unfortunately real life got in the way of my writing, but I’m back. First order of business, the overdue answers to the Space Exploration Quiz. It apparently didn’t stump people too long, since the correct answers were posted in the first few comments. C’est la vie. Still, for the record, these images are each the first image sent back by the first lander on their respective planetary bodies: The Moon, Venus, Mars, and Titan.
This achievement was the very first time images had been sent back from the surface of another planetary body. While the USA would beat Russia to the Moon some three years later, this was another first for the Russian Space Program. As a curious note, for some reason the Soviets decided not to release the images that Luna 9 sent back. However, British astronomers who had recorded the craft’s transmissions from the Moon realized that the file format (so to speak) the Russians had used was a standard format used by newspapers to transmit images. So they decoded the images and they were published in papers world wide despite the Russian’s unwillingness to share them. It’s even been speculated that someone in the Russian Space Program did this deliberately hoping the images would be intercepted and published.
Next we come to another Russian first in space, the Venera 9 lander:
The Venera 9 mission was the first mission to put a probe in orbit around another planet, and the first mission to return photographs from the surface of another planet. On 20 October 1975 the lander set down, only operating for 53 minutes, but it was long enough to do the job. Pretty impressive really, considering the incredible pressure and heat on the surface, 90 times the Earth’s air pressure and 450 °C (842 °F.) .
The third image is the first American entry, the first picture sent back from Mars by the Viking 1 lander on July 20 1976. This was the USA’s first attempt to put a lander on another planet, and it was a successful mission:
That’s Carl Sagan in the picture, a much younger Carl Sagan, and a model of the Viking landers. The Viking missions were the first missions specifically designed to look for life. And to this day, scientists are arguing about just what the results indicated, though most think they indicated weird soil chemistry but no life. As a historical note, the original plan had been to land Viking 1 on July 4 1976, as part of the nation’s bicentennial celebration. Unfortunately the originally chosen landing site was too rocky, so another had to be substituted. These two Viking landers were the landers I mentioned in a previous post, if they had just dug a few inches deeper they most likely would have found ice, and changed the course of space exploration.
Lastly, and in some ways, my favourite, the Huygens lander on Titan:
Titan is a moon of Saturn, so this landing took place considerably further from Earth than the previous images. Nearly three decades later too, aside from the Moon and Mars, there aren’t any other obvious or easy locations to send a lander. And Huygens didn’t have an easy time of it either, in the extreme cold the lander only functioned for 90 minutes. Still, that’s longer than mission scientists had hoped. Huygens sent back its images on January 14 2005. The “rocks” (probably ice) are only a few inches wide.
And there is an enduring mystery about Huygens. While other evidence seems to strongly indicated that Titan has lakes and seas of liquid hydrocarbons, there is a complication to that idea. The latest calculations seem to show that Huygens landed right in the middle of one of these lakes. Let’s review, here is the image sent back by Huygens:
Does it look like the lander is floating on a lake? While there is evidence of some liquid flow on the surface around some of the “rocks,” this clearly isn’t the surface of a body of fluid. The debate will continue no doubt, there’s more room for debate in science than most people realize.
Coming soon, the most comprehensive map ever made, “There are no adults,” 2012, God and tiny pebbles, and the usual ramblings about current events and politics.
(The above images are all public domain under US copyright law. Well, I’m not sure about the images sent by the Russian landers, but I think it can safely be claimed that these are historical images if there ever was such a thing. Coming soon, I think I’ll do a post on exotic space exploration proposals. I think that will be fun.)