Image of Magellan orbiting Venus.
Click on image for full size
On May 4, 1989, Magellan was carried into space by the Atlantis space shuttle, which launched it toward Venus. It arrived on Aug. 10, 1990 and inserted itself into a highly elliptical orbit around the north and south poles.
Over the next 3 years, Magellan used radar to penetrate the dense cloud cover surrounding Venus and map its surface. With every orbit it sent back strips of data, which were put together by scientists back on Earth into a 98% complete global map. Because Magellan viewed the Venusian surface from varying angles, 3-dimensional images of the planet's terrain were also possible.
After studying Venus' gravitational field for a year, Magellan then plunged into its atmosphere, testing a new technique for controlling surface descent, called aerobraking. Although it was crushed by the planet's pressure, scientists learned valuable information that would be used in future missions.
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