Forget Mars — Russia Sets Its Sights on Venus

While other space programs are sending probes to explore the surface of Mars or the moon, Russian scientists have their eyes on another target: Venus, a planet last explored by Soviet scientists over two decades ago.

From 1961 to 1985, the Soviet Union launched 17 missions to our other planetary neighbor. The US has since mapped Venus' surface by radar and deliberately vaporized the Magellan probe in the planet's atmosphere, but the last probes to land on Venus were Vega 1 and Vega 2, sent by the Soviet Union in 1985.

Now Russia is looking to go back to Venus, with the help of the European Space Agency. The Venera D mission would be a thorough, multi-faceted exploration of Venus, with an orbiting spacecraft, air balloons, a lander, and a kite-like "wind flyer," which would harness the winds of Venus to stay indefinitely aloft over the surface. It will not only be an expensive undertaking, but a great engineering challenge to develop crafts that can survive Venus' high temperatures and harsh conditions. Soviet landers lasted mere hours on the surface; Russian scientists working on Venera D had hoped to develop spacecraft and instruments that could last an entire 30 days, though they now think 24 hours is a more sensible goal.

Even a single day on Venus will prove difficult, but Russia is consulting with other space programs also turning toward Venus, and are officially scheduled to launch Venera D in 2016.

Russia plots return to Venus [BBC]