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NASA announces first Venus missions in more than 30 years

NASA's Return to Venus

NASA has announced plans for two missions to Venus, our nearest planetary neighbor.

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The missions, announced by the space agency on Wednesday, June 2, are expected to launch around 2028-2030 and will be the first NASA voyages to Venus in more than 30 years.

The missions will aim to learn more about how Venus, which is a little smaller than Earth and covered permanently in thick clouds, became “an inferno-like world when it has so many other characteristics similar to ours,” NASA said, adding that the planet may even have been the first habitable world in the solar system, “complete with an ocean and Earth-like climate.”

The upcoming missions, named DAVINCI+ and VERITAS, were selected as part of NASA’s Discovery Program, an initiative set up in 1992 that gives scientists and engineers more freedom to design their own space missions for possible selection by the space agency.

DAVINCI+

DAVINCI+ (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble Gases, Chemistry, and Imaging) will analyze the composition of Venus’ atmosphere in an effort to find out how it came to be and will also attempt to discover if there was ever an ocean on the planet.

“The mission consists of a descent sphere that will plunge through the planet’s thick atmosphere, making precise measurements of noble gases and other elements to understand why Venus’ atmosphere is a runaway hothouse compared the Earth’s,” NASA said.

DAVINCI+ will be the first U.S.-led mission to Venus’ atmosphere since 1978, and its findings could shed new light on the formation of terrestrial planets in our solar system and beyond.

VERITAS

VERITAS (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy) will attempt to map the surface of Venus to gather data on the planet’s geologic history, including finding out if plate tectonics and volcanism are still present there.

VERITAS will research Venus’ surface to learn more about the rock type at ground level and will also attempt to find out if inactive volcanoes are releasing water vapor into the atmosphere.

“We’re revving up our planetary science program with intense exploration of a world that NASA hasn’t visited in over 30 years,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for science. “Using cutting-edge technologies that NASA has developed and refined over many years of missions and technology programs, we’re ushering in a new decade of Venus to understand how an Earth-like planet can become a hothouse. Our goals are profound. It is not just understanding the evolution of planets and habitability in our own solar system but extending beyond these boundaries to exoplanets, an exciting and emerging area of research for NASA.”

Venus is the second planet from the sun and is sometimes referred to as the “morning star” or “evening star” for its bright appearance in the sky — in fact, it’s the brightest object in the sky after the sun.

Previous missions to Venus have revealed a surface covered with craters, volcanoes, mountains, and lava plains. NASA says of the planet, “The surface of Venus is not where you’d like to be, with temperatures that can melt lead, an atmosphere so thick it would crush you, and clouds of sulfuric acid that smell like rotten eggs to top it off.”

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