By 1961 the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union had been going on for six years. The Soviets had the upper hand, having been the first to launch an artificial satellite into orbit, Sputnik 1, on October 4, 1957.
They were also ahead of the curve, launching the first living creature, the puppy Laika aboard Sputnik 2, into orbit on November 3 of the same year. And as everyone knows, the first human being, Yuri Gagarin aboard Vostok 1, on April 12, 1961.
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Just a couple of months earlier, on February 12, they also launched the first probe destined for another planet, the Venera 1. Its objective was to orbit Venus, but the malfunction of a sensor caused it to lose contact with the Earth before approaching within 100,000 kilometers of the planet. It was the first probe to combine all the instruments needed on an interplanetary spacecraft: solar panels, parabolic telemetry antenna, three-axis stabilization, and heading correction engine.
Artist's impression of a Venera probe on the surface of Venus. Photo: Pixabay