The last time the United States explored the atmosphere of Venus was in 1978.
NASA’s new chief executive, Bill Nelson, announced the launch of two robotic missions to Venus during his first official address to the agency’s staff on Wednesday.
“The goal of these two related missions is to understand how Venus turned into such a hellish world, where lead melts on the surface of the planet,” Nelson said.
The mission, called DaVinci Plus, will analyze the dense, cloudy atmosphere of Venus to determine whether there were oceans and organic life here in the past. A small spacecraft will dive into the atmosphere to analyze the gases that make up its composition.
This will be the first US mission to study the atmosphere of Venus since 1978.
Another mission, called Veritas, will study the geological history of Venus by mapping the rocky surface of the planet.
“We know strikingly little about Venus, so the new missions will allow us to take a fresh look at the planet’s atmosphere, which consists mainly of carbon dioxide, and study the surface down to its core,” said Tom Wagner, a NASA research scientist. “It will be as if we were rediscovering this planet.”
NASA senior scientist Thomas Zurbuchen called the coming decade “a new decade dedicated to Venus.” For the development of each of the missions, which are scheduled to launch in 2028-2030, $ 500 million will be spent under the NASA Discovery program.
The Venus missions were given priority over two other NASA-proposed projects to study Io, a moon of Jupiter, and Triton, an icy moon of Neptune.
At the dawn of the space age, the United States and the Soviet Union sent several spacecraft to Venus. NASA’s Mariner-2 space probe made its first successful flyby of the planet in 1962, and the Soviet automatic interplanetary station Venera-7 made its first successful landing on the planet’s surface in 1970.
In 1989, NASA used the space shuttle to send the Magellan Space Station into Venus orbit.
The European Space Agency launched a spacecraft into the orbit of Venus in 2006.