NASA is going back to Venus after more than 30 years! But How & Why?

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It was 1989, when NASA planned its last Venus mission. No NASA mission has been planned since 1989. But do you know what was the reason that NASA stopped its Venus missions and all of sudden after more than 30 years start its work on another Venus mission? 

Venus is the second planet from sun, it is also sometime called Earth’s twin or as Earth’s sister planet. The atmosphere on Venus is mostly carbon dioxide – the same gas driving the greenhouse effect on Venus and Earth – with clouds composed of sulfuric acid. And at the surface, the hot, high-pressure carbon dioxide behaves in a corrosive fashion. Surface temperatures on Venus are about 900 degrees Fahrenheit (475 degrees Celsius) – hot enough to melt lead. 

A planet where the rain comprises of Suphuric acid and the average surface temperature is hot enough to melt lead, then what’s so exciting there? I mean NASA just landed their fifth rover on mars and even flew a helicopter on an alien planet. Its rover and spacecraft have been exploring mars for several years. For example the curiosity rover has been there on mars since 2012 and it is fully functional, has been exploring the red planet for nearly a decade.  So is everyone so thrilled about Venus? 

Despite being a close planet to earth Venus has always eluded us, thanks to its hostile conditions. But it nearly impossible to ignore that this hellish planet hides a wealth of information that can help us understand earth and other exoplanets better. NASA had also landed a spacecraft on venus and unlike mars the longest time of a spacecraft survived there was just 127 minutes. The vigorous condition of the planet makes it very tough for scientists to operate a spacecraft on venus. That’s why no NASA mission has been planned for venus since 1989. The last time NASA launched a mission to study Venus was in 1989, with a satellite named Magellan. 

But now after a dormant period of more than 30 years, NASA Administrator and former astronaut Senator Bill Nelson announced that the agency would be sending two missions to Venus. The two missions, called DAVINCI+ that stands for “Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging Plus” and VERITAS that stand for “Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy.” will respectively study the planet’s atmosphere and geological history. 

In the mission, DAVINCI+ will drop a spherical probe into the planet’s atmosphere, measuring the chemical makeup of each layer. After the probe is dropped, the spacecraft will orbit the planet for a Venus year, or 225 Earth days, collecting ultraviolet and infrared images. While DAVINCI+ will focus on the chemical makeup of the atmosphere, VERITAS will map the geological features of Venus. Together, the two missions will paint a nearly complete picture of modern Venus, and offer data to help decode its past.

These two new projects have been capped around $500 million in funding each, and are expected to launch between 2028 and 2030. They were selected from a batch of four possible missions selected by NASA’s Discovery Program in 2020. 

We don’t have an immense amount of information about the second planet from the Sun, but in 2016 NASA computer models of Venus suggested it might have had a habitable surface temperature and shallow water-filled oceans for up to past 2 billion years.

But how that landscape turned into the uninhabitable land that Venus appears to be today is unknown. VERITAS and DAVINCI+ could help reconstruct what happened on Venus that led to a runaway greenhouse effect.

Understanding this process of Venusian climate change could be crucial in understanding how our own planet’s climate is changing, NASA said while announcing the projects’ approval.

So while the colonization of Mars might be the future for humans as an interplanetary species, Venus could help us understand how to make sure our home planet stays habitable.

“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,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for science, in a press statement.

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