Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Junk Pile


Did you know that the USSR sent 16 space crafts to Venus between 1966 and 1985? Until this morning's round of time-on-my-hands research, I didn't. I'm sadly under-informed about the only planet named after a female goddess, it seems. The United States has only sent five probes, all in 1978. The Soviet Union, before turning their attention to other planets, sent capsules, landers and even "balloon gondolas".

The scattering of major hardware on Planet Venus amounts to just under 50,000 pounds or 25 tons. That's an awful lot of metal, slowly melting on the hot Venusian crust!

Space crafts on Venus, Moon and Mars
We hear far more about Mars in the news and popular culture, but only a fraction of similar metal exists on the red planet. And here, of course, some are still operational and moving about!

All the artificial objects on Mars, compliments this time of NASA, RFSA, ESA and JAXA, come to only 18,000 pounds or 9 tons.

It may still sound like a substantial heap of hardware, but it's a relatively meager showing, considering that's only 13 crafts total out of 39 attempts! It must not be as easy to reach Mars and land as we might think. The majority of crafts sent up have either failed somewhere along the way, or suffered communication malfunctions, leaving their fate a mystery.

Surveyor 3 on the Moon
Click for a graphic of large objects mapped on the moon

However, the list of lunar junk truly sets the record for off-world trash heaps. Our moon holds a whopping 393,000 pounds of space crafts, or just under 200 tons of human-made objects.

Each of the lists linked above have convenient coordinates listed, so it's fun to go to Google Moon or Google Mars and map the human hardware!

The USA, USSR, Japan, the European Union, India, and China now have 73 probes, [intentionally] crashed orbiters, landers and rovers on the lunar surface. Clean up crew, anyone?