For the first time in over three decades, NASA is planning to return to Venus. The space agency wants to gain a better understanding of the history of our neighbour. This is because scientists believe Venus could have been the first habitable planet in the solar system.
The head of the US space agency, Bill Nelson, recently announced their plans for two separate and ambitious deep space missions to Earth's nearest neighbour. He added that the launches were targeted for a 2028-2030 time frame.
NASA has set aside $1bn in developmental funding for the two ventures. This space trip will be marked in history as the first US exploration of the planet since 1989. At the end of its five-year mission, in 1984, the Magellan spacecraft was sent plunging into the oblivion of Venus' atmosphere.
Before that, though, it provided never-before-seen imagery of the planet's cratered and volcanic surface. NASA now seeks to further explore and research Venus.
Tom Wagner, the lead scientist of NASA's Discovery Program, spoke about the mission. "It is astounding 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 all the way down to its very core. It will be as if we have rediscovered the planet."
The first mission selected by the space agency is Davinci+. It's from a shortlist of four concepts first announced in February 2020. This mission will focus on the deep atmosphere Venus investigation of noble gases, chemistry and imaging. This will measure the composition of the planet's atmosphere to better understand how it formed and evolved. It will also send back the first high-resolution pictures of Venus' geological features known as tesserae, which scientists believe are comparable to Earth's continents.
The second mission is called Veritas – the Venus emissivity. This will focus on radio science, InSAR, topography and spectroscopy. It will also map Venus' surface to determine the planet's geologic history. This will help scientists understand why it developed so differently than Earth. With new images of the surface elevations, it will allow 3D reconstructions of the topography. It will also provide clues to whether any volcanic activity is still taking place.
Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's associate administrator for science, hailed what he called "a decade of Venus, to understand how an Earth-like planet can become a hothouse".
He said, "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. It's an exciting and emerging area of research for NASA."
Check out the rather exciting NASA video on the Divinci+ mission below.