CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — After decades of exploring other worlds, NASA
is returning to sizzling Venus
, our closest but possibly most overlooked neighbor.
During his first major address to employees on Wednesday, Bill Nelson
, the agency's new administrator, announced two new robotic missions to the solar system's hottest planet.
“Both of these sister missions aim to understand how Venus became an inferno capable of melting lead at the surface,” Nelson said.
One mission, DaVinci
Plus, will analyze the thick, cloudy Venusian atmosphere to see if the inferno planet ever had an ocean
and was possibly habitable, using a small craft to measure the gases.
It will be the first mission led by the United States
to Venus since 1978.
mission, on the other hand, will map the rocky planet's surface to learn about its geologic history.
“It is astounding how little we know about Venus,” NASA scientist Tom Wagner said in a statement, but the new missions will provide new views of the planet’s atmosphere, which is mostly made up of carbon dioxide, right down to the core. “It will be as if we have rediscovered the planet.”
Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's top science
official, refers to it as a "new decade of Venus." Each mission, which will launch between 2028 and 2030, will receive $500 million in development funding through NASA's Discovery program.
The missions were chosen over two other proposals to Jupiter's moon Io and Neptune's icy moon Triton.
In the early days of space
exploration, the United States and the former Soviet Union sent multiple spacecraft to Venus, with NASA's Mariner 2 performing the first successful flyby in 1962 and the Soviets' Venera 7 landing successfully in 1970.
NASA launched the Magellan spacecraft into orbit around Venus in 1989, using a space shuttle.
In 2006, the European Space Agency launched a spacecraft that orbited Venus.
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