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17 September 2014
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Space Odyssey: Voyage to the Planets

Programme 1
First shown November 2004

Pegasus0 The interplanetary spacecraft Pegasus and her five-strong crew are launched into Earth orbit. Their epic six-year mission has begun.

Their first encounter with Venus lies just 41 days away from Earth.

Although it's Earth's nearest neighbour, Venus could not be a more different world. With clouds of sulphuric acid, surface temperatures pushing 500°C, snows of metal that encrust mountain peaks and atmospheric pressures that could destroy a submarine, this is a hell-hole of a planet.

Astronauts Zoe Lessard and Yvan Grigorev make the nail-biting descent in a landing craft called Orpheus.

Find out more about the Orpheus lander

As the lander plummets to the surface in a fireball enveloped in a shroud of gases, Pegasus loses contact with the Orpheus crew. Cocooned in the supremely re-enforced landing craft, though, the astronauts land safely.

Yvan on Venus0

Encased in an ultra-toughened titanium spacesuit, Yvan takes mankind's historic first steps on to the planet.

His objectives are to collect samples, lay sensors to listen for volcanic eruptions and to retrieve a piece of a robot from a previous Russian mission - but soaring temperatures inside his suit prove almost too much.

With everything that's keeping them alive at its design limits, these two planet pioneers make their escape with only seconds to spare.

How would you survive on this inhospitable planet?

Mars is 240 million kilometres and 62 days of interplanetary travel away.

Mission Commander Tom Kirby, medic and geologist John Pearson and exo-biologist Nina Sulman make their descent in another specially designed lander, Ares.

Find out more about the Ares lander

This frozen, red planet should prove comparatively easy to explore compared to the ferocious conditions on Venus but, as Tom steps onto the surface, a dust devil, five times larger than anything on Earth, engulfs him.

Fortunately, the Martian atmosphere is so weak that even these giant twisters are harmless. It does Tom no permanent damage, bar leaving a red hue all over his spacesuit!

Supported by a host of robotic explorers, the crew head for the edge of Valles Marineris - a canyon system a thousand times the size of Arizona's Grand Canyon.

Their quest is to search for water in an attempt to discover life on Mars.

Why is Mars a good place to look for life?

Marvelling at the breathtaking views, the team is suddenly alerted to the imminent arrival of a solar storm carrying lethal levels of radiation.


The safest place is inside Ares. Desperate to complete the experiments, their struggle back becomes a race for their lives.

Battling against radiation and giant dust storms, the team eventually complete their exploration of Mars and return to Pegasus.

They must now cross the inner Solar System for an unsettling, but necessary, close encounter with the Sun at temperatures approaching a staggering two million degrees centigrade.

This accelerates Pegasus briefly to one million kilometres an hour, which helps propel them the next 800 million kilometres to Jupiter.

More hazards of approaching the Sun

On the way, however, a scary brush with a rogue fragment of rock begins to erode the crew's trust in Mission Control back on Earth.

As they crash into the top of giant Jupiter's immense atmosphere a few weeks later, there is concern that Control might have betrayed them again.

Even more worryingly, flight medic John Pearson seems to be getting very sick.

Play the Space Doctor game

Back to Space Odyssey Homepage

 TV Programmes

First shown November 2004

Programme One

Programme Two

Space Odyssey homepage

 Elsewhere on

PLAY: Space Doctor
Could you keep your crew healthy on a voyage to Mars?

Health in Space
Think a trip to space would be glamorous? Find out what it does to the body.

Pegasus and Craft
Information on the Pegasus spaceship and its landers.

Crew Profiles
Get to know the crew of Pegasus and their support team.

Chat on Interactive TV
Put your questions to Solar System experts.

VOTE: Mission to Mars
Do you think we send a manned mission to Mars?

VISIT: Space Odyssey Events
Series producer Chris Riley presents the science behind the series in a town near you.

 Elsewhere on

Science News
All the latest Science and Technology news from the BBC.

On this day
Multimedia guides to landmarks in the history of space exploration

 Elsewhere on the web

The Venera probes
The Russian probes to Venus - from

How dangerous are martian dust devils?
An article from

Radiation and solar flares
What are the threats to astronauts?

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