November 09 – Launch of Venus Express (2005)

Venus Express was the first mission to Venus by the European Space Agency.  It used the same basic platform used for the Mars Express mission of 2003, keeping costs down, and allowing rather a swifter progression than normal from the proposal of the mission to the actual launch.

The launch, on November 9th 2005, was from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, which by that time was no longer behind the Iron Curtain, and available to rent.  I’m not sure how much it costs to launch from Baikonur, but the Russians were paying the Kazakh government $115m (US) a year for the privilege in 2016.

After a voyage of just over 5 months, Venus Express parked in a near-polar orbit, chosen to give it the best view possible of most of the planet.  Obviously most of the focus was on studying the structure and composition of the extremely thick Venusian atmosphere, but observations of the surface have also been made possible by use of the Visible and Infrared Thermal Imaging Spectrometer (VIRTIS).  This has helped support the theory that Venus has recently seen volcanic activity.

Venus Express (image copyright ESA)
Venus Express (image copyright ESA)

You can see VIRTIS on the above image.  Also indicated are the magnetometer (MAG), the Fourier spectrometer (PFS) and the camera (VMC).

After a fairly lengthy working life of nine years (seven more than the original plan) ESA announced the Venus Express mission was over in December 2014.

November 09 – Launch of Apollo 4 (1967)

Today I have a good excuse (as if one were needed) to show a photograph of a Saturn V, as it marks the anniversary of the launch by NASA, in 1967, of Apollo 4, the first “all-up” (everything in working condition) test of the Saturn V launch vehicle. Launch was at 7am, and the pointy end of the 363 foot (110 m) miracle of 1960’s engineering was parked into a 100 mile high orbit for two trips around the Earth, before the command module was splashed down into the Pacific Ocean, close to Midway Island.

Apollo 4 launch (image credit: NASA)
Apollo 4 launch (image credit: NASA)

The unmanned mission was deemed to have been successful, and involved placing the third stage, the S-IVB (pronounced “ess four bee”) and the CSM (Command/Service Module) into orbit, and simulating a return to Earth from a Moon mission.

Apollo IV was the first flight of NASA’s manned mooned mission after the Apollo I fatalities. There were unmanned flights between the two, but they have failed to attain the name Apollo II or III.