NASA returns to Venus for the first time in more than three decades to better understand the history of what scientists believe may have been the first habitable planet in the solar system.
Plans for two separate and ambitious deep space missions to Earth’s closest neighbor were announced on wednesday by the director of the US space agency, Bill Nelson. The launches were scheduled for a 2028-2030 time period, he said.
NASA has set aside $ 1 billion (£ 700 million) in funding for the development of the two companies, which will be the first exploration of the planet in the United States since 1989. The Magellan spacecraft that administrators sent to oblivion of the Venus’s atmosphere in 1994 at the end of its five-year mission provided never-before-seen images of the planet’s volcanic surface and crater that NASA now seeks to investigate further.
“It is amazing how little we know about Venus, but the combined results of these missions will tell us about the planet from the clouds in its sky through the volcanoes on its surface to its core,” Tom Wagner, NASA Chief Scientific Officer discovery program, saying.
“It will be as if we have rediscovered the planet.”
The first mission selected by the space agency from a short list of four concepts first announced in February 2020 is Davinci + (investigation of Venus in deep atmosphere of noble gases, chemistry and imaging).
It will measure the composition of the planet’s atmosphere to understand how it formed and evolved, as well as to determine if the planet ever had an ocean, NASA said.
It will also send the first high-resolution images of the geological features of Venus known as tesserae, which scientists believe are comparable to Earth’s continents.
The second mission, known as Veritas (Venus Emissivity, Radioscience, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy), will map the surface of Venus to determine the geological history of the planet and understand why it developed so differently from Earth. The images of surface elevations will allow the creation of 3D reconstructions of the topography and will provide clues as to whether volcanic activity is still occurring.
Scientific American magazine announced the announcement as NASA breaking its call “Curse of venus“, In which the space agency is perceived to have allowed explorations of other planets to languish at the expense of a recent focus on Mars.
Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate science administrator, praised what he called “a decade of Venus, to understand how an Earth-like planet can become a greenhouse.”
“Our goals are deep,” he said. “It is not just about understanding the evolution of planets and habitability in our own solar system, but about extending beyond these limits to exoplanets, an exciting and emerging research area for NASA.”