On This Day: USSR lands on Venus and nearly wins space race

On This Day: USSR lands on Venus and nearly wins space race

May 17: A Soviet spacecraft entered the atmosphere of Venus on this day in 1969 – allowing the USSR to take lead in space race just two months before America landed men on the moon.

The effort by the communist superpower, which had been competing with its great capitalist rival to notch up as many cosmic firsts since 1957, astounded the world.

At this point, the U.S. had not even come close to the Soviet feat of landing an unmanned craft on the planet 23million miles from Earth.

Russian footage, which was purchased by British Pathé, shows the Venera 6 rocket bearing a relief of Lenin and the USSR’s hammer and sickle emblem.

Pravda newspapers carrying the story are also seen rolling off state-owned presses, with readers in the street poring over the details.

The video also provides an intriguing glimpse behind the Iron Curtain – with short-skirted female scientists and a glut of space-inspired designs in 1960s Moscow.

Yet by July 20, 1969, America had effectively won the space race – after it fulfilled President Kennedy’s promise of putting men on the moon by the end of the decade.

[On This Day: Hubble space telescope launches on Space Shuttle Discovery]

But, at the time, few people knew how close the USSR came to dashing JFK’s dream.

The secretive Soviets kept under wraps the fact that, 17 days earlier, its own N1 moon rocket exploded seconds after lift-off, causing the biggest non-nuclear blast in history.

Details of explosion, which was powerful enough to level a town the size of Luton, were only revealed after the fall of communism in the 1990s.

The lid was also lifted on how the brave Bolsheviks kept on trying – and failing – with ten launches between 1969 and 1974, when its moon programme was axed.

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