Venus Express rises again! The European Space Agency spacecraft, which has been orbiting our cloud-covered neighboring planet since 2006, recently performed a risky - yet successful - aerobraking dip into Venus' upper atmosphere in an attempt to scoop some extra data as the end of its operational life approaches.
ANALYSIS: Venus Probe Will Dive to Its Death
After its scientific mission concluded on May 15, Venus Express' orbit was allowed to drop, bringing the spacecraft to as low as 129 km (80 miles) above the planet's broiling, pressure-cooked surface. That's only about a third of the average altitude that the International Space Station (ISS) orbits Earth!
This is the farthest any human-made spacecraft has descended into Venus' atmosphere since the two Soviet Vega missions in 1985.
ANALYSIS: Venus Spacecraft Punched, Blinded by Solar Radiation
"We have explored uncharted territory, diving deeper into the atmosphere than ever before," said Håkan Svedhem, ESA's Venus Express project scientist. "We've measured the effects of atmospheric drag on the spacecraft, which will teach us how the density of the atmosphere varies on local and global scales."