After finding an ancient, long-buried flight recorder that originally came from a spaceship, apparently from Venus, a human spaceship is dispatched to Venus. The crew discovers a long-dead Venusian civilization that had constructed a device intended to destroy all life on the Earth prior to invasion. Before they could execute their plan, they perished in a global nuclear war.
In 1985 engineers involved in an industrial project to irrigate the Gobi Desert accidentally unearth a mysterious and apparently artificial “spool”. When found to be made of a material unknown on Earth, the spool is circumstantially linked to the Tunguska explosion of 1908. The spool is seized on as evidence that the explosion, originally blamed on a meteor, was actually caused by an alien spaceship.
Professor Harringway deduces the craft must have come from Venus. The spool itself is determined to be a flight recorder and is partially decoded by an international team of scientists led by Professor Sikarna and Dr. Tchen Yu. When radio greetings sent to Venus go unanswered, Harringway announces that a journey to Venus is the only alternative. The recently completed Soviet spaceship Cosmostrator, intended to voyage to Mars, is redirected to Venus, a 30- to 31-day journey. During the voyage, Sikarna works furiously to translate the alien message using the spaceship’s computer.
When their spaceship nears Venus, radio interference from the planet cuts the crew off from Earth. By then, Sikarna’s efforts lead to a stunning discovery: The spool describes a Venusian plan to irradiate the Earth’s surface, with the extermination of mankind being the prelude to an invasion. Rather than containing a “cosmic document”, as had been expected, the spool bears a cold-blooded message of destruction. Harringway convinces the crew to press on towards Venus rather than return to Earth with news that would panic mankind.
With the ship’s robot, Omega, American astronaut Brinkman pilots a one-man landing craft. On the ground, he encounters an industrial complex and finds small recording devices that look like insects. The rest of the crew follows when Cosmostrator lands, but they find no Venusian life forms. Journeying across the planet, they find the remains of a deserted and blasted city centered around a huge crater, signs of a catastrophic explosion so intense that shadowy forms of humanoid Venusians are permanently burned on to the walls of the surviving buildings.
The Venusians are gone, but their machines remain functioning, including the radiation-bombardment machine intended for Earth. One of the scientists accidentally triggers the weapon, leading to a frantic effort by the Earthmen to disarm it. Tchen Yu lowers Talua, the ship’s communication officer, into the Venusian command center. When Tchen Yu’s suit is punctured, Brinkman ventures out to save him. Before he can reach Yu, Talua succeeds in reversing the weapon. Unfortunately, this also reverses Venus’ gravitational field, flinging Cosmostrator into space. Brinkman is also repelled off the planet, beyond the reach of the spaceship, while Talua and Tchen Yu remain marooned on Venus. The surviving crew members must return to Earth, where they warn humanity about the dangers of atomic weapons.
Kurt Maetzig [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons