NASA announced on Wednesday, June 3, that it will be sending two missions to Venus by 2030 in a bid to understand how it became the "inferno-like world" it is today, a post from NASA explains.
In its post, the US space agency describes how Venus, our closest planetary neighbor, may have been the first habitable world in the solar system, complete with an ocean and Earth-like climate.
Today, the planet exhibits surface temperatures close to 900 degrees Fahrenheit and a surface air pressure so heavy it would crush a person.
Two sister-missions to an 'inferno-like world'
One of the missions, called DAVINCI+ (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging Plus), will send a spacecraft to orbit Venus and take images of the planet from above.
The other, dubbed VERITAS (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy), will attempt to land on its surface and take samples of the planet's atmosphere.
In today's #StateOfNASA address, we announced two new @NASASolarSystem missions to study the planet Venus, which we haven't visited in over 30 years! DAVINCI+ will analyze Venus’ atmosphere, and VERITAS will map Venus’ surface. pic.twitter.com/yC5Etbpgb8— NASA (@NASA) June 2, 2021
Neither of the missions has a set date, though NASA explains that "each is expected to launch in the 2028-2030 timeframe."
"These two sister missions both aim to understand how Venus became an inferno-like world capable of melting lead at the surface," NASA administrator Bill Nelson stated in a press conference on June 3. "They will offer the entire science community the chance to investigate a planet we haven’t been to in more than 30 years."
Aside from the measurements of the inferno-like planet, NASA will also test two space technologies on its missions to Venus — much in the same way the agency recently tested controlled flight and breathable oxygen extraction with its Mars 2020 rover.
The VERITAS mission will host the Deep Space Atomic Clock-2, the latest in NASA's experiments with ultra-precise clock signals that will eventually enable deep space exploration for autonomous spacecraft.
DAVINCI+, meanwhile, will host the Compact Ultraviolet to Visible Imaging Spectrometer (CUVIS), which will make high-resolution measurements of UV light in a bid to understand the mystery of the ultraviolet absorber in Venus' atmosphere that absorbs half of the solar energy reaching the planet.
Life on Venus?
It is just over 30 years since NASA's last mission to Venus, called Magellan, arrived at the planet. That mission, which launched in May 1989 and plunged into Venus' atmosphere in October 1994, was the first to map the entire surface of the planet.
Interest in re-exploring the planet has partly been rekindled thanks to recent findings that point to the potential for life on the planet.
In 2020, a team of scientists detected a molecule, phosphine, in the clouds of Venus, which remain temperate compared to the scorching temperatures of the planet's surface. Some scientists believe the only way this molecule could be present in the clouds of Venus is as a waste product of living organisms.
The finding led to NASA administrator at the time, Jim Bridenstine, stating on Twitter that the discovery was "the most significant development yet in building the case for life off Earth ... It’s time to prioritize Venus."
While there was no mention from NASA on the search for life on Venus in its post regarding its two new missions, it's safe to say the space agency will keep its eyes open for any signs of microbial life when it reaches the planet. The focus, for now, will be on discerning how our closest planetary neighbor became a hellish inferno, at the same time as life flourished here on Earth.