compared to Venus at 12,103 kilometers (7,520miles); Earth orbits the sun at an average 149.6 mil-lion kilometers (93 million miles), compared to Venusat 108.2 kilometers (67.2 million miles). The twoplanets' densities are also similar -- 5.52 grams percubic centimeter for Earth, compared to 5.24 gramsper cc for Venus. Because Venus is closer to the sunthan Earth is, it always appears close to the sun fromour point of view as either a glistening, brightevening or morning "star."Despite the similarities, however, in other waysVenus is very much unlike Earth. Venus has a surfacetemperature of about 470 degrees Celsius (about 900degrees Fahrenheit); the atmospheric pressure at thesurface is 90 times greater than Earth's. Venus'satmosphere is nearly devoid of water, made up of 97percent carbon dioxide; its upper clouds contain sul-furic acid. Venus has no moons, and no magneticfield has been detected. It rotates on its axis in a ret-rograde direction -- that is, opposite that of Earth andmost of the other planets -- very slowly, once every243 Earth days.The first spacecraft mission to another planet wasthe NASA/JPLspacecraft Mariner 2, which executeda flyby of Venus in December 1962. Other U.S.spacecraft to visit Venus have included Mariner 10,which flew by Venus in 1974 on its way to Mercuryin the first mission to more than a single planet; andPioneer Venus, a 1978 mission that included anorbiter with an altimeter and imaging radar that func-tioned at lower resolution than Magellan's, as well asmultiple probes that descended into Venus's atmos-phere. The then-Soviet Union also sent a number of spacecraft to Venus, including four -- Venera 9, 10, 13and 14 -- that landed on the surface and made closeuppictures of the rocky terrain briefly before the searingheat caused them to stop functioning. Two otherSoviet missions, Venera 15 and 16, used orbitingimaging radar similar to Magellan's but at a lowerresolution.
The Magellan Spacecraft
Built partially with spare parts from other mis-sions, the Magellan spacecraft was 4.6 meters (15.4feet) long, topped with a 3.7-meter (12-foot) high-gain antenna. Mated to its retrorocket and fullytanked with propellants, the spacecraft weighed atotal of 3,460 kilograms (7,612 pounds) at launch.The high-gain antenna, used for both communica-tion and radar imaging, was a spare from theNASA/JPLVoyager mission to the outer planets, aswere Magellan's 10-sided main structure and a set of thrusters. The command data computer system, atti-tude control computer and power distribution unitsare spares from the Galileo mission to Jupiter.Magellan's medium-gain antenna is from theNASA/JPLMariner 9 project. Martin Marietta Corp.was the prime contractor for the Magellan spacecraft,while Hughes Aircraft Co. was the prime contractorfor the radar system.Magellan was powered by two square solar pan-els, each measuring 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) on a side;together they supplied 1,200 watts of power. Overthe course of the mission the solar panels graduallydegraded, as expected; by the end of the mission inthe fall of 1994 it was necessary to manage powerusage carefully to keep the spacecraft operating.The mission was named for the 16th-centuryPortuguese explorer whose mission first circumnavi-gated the Earth by ocean.
Because Venus is shrouded by a dense, opaqueatmosphere, conventional optical cameras cannot beused to image its surface. Instead, Magellan's imag-ing radar uses bursts of microwave energy somewhatlike a camera flash to illuminate the planet's surface.Magellan's high-gain antenna sends out millionsof pulses each second toward the planet; the antennathen collects the echoes returned to the spacecraftwhen the radar pulses bounce off Venus's surface.The radar pulses are not sent directly downward butrather at a slight angle to the side of the spacecraft,the radar is thus sometimes called "side-lookingradar." In addition, special processing techniques areused on the radar data to result in higher resolution asif the radar had a larger antenna, or "aperture"; thetechnique is thus often called "synthetic apertureradar," or SAR.Synthetic aperture radar was first used by NASAon JPL's Seasat oceanographic satellite in 1978; itwas later developed more extensively on theSpaceborne Imaging Radar (SIR) missions on thespace shuttle in 1981, 1984 and 1994. An imagingradar is also part of the NASA/JPLCassini mission toSaturn, for mapping the surface of the ringed planet's3