NASA's sudden interest in Venus is all about climate change
Recently, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson announced that the space agency will send not one but two robotic probes to Venus under the Discovery program. The probes are DAVINCI+ and VERITAS. The two probes, which are due to be launched by the end of the 2020s, will be the first dedicated NASA missions to the second planet from the sun in decades. Why Venus and why now?
After all, a great many planetary probes, orbiters, landers and rovers have gone to Mars. Probes from three nations, the United States, China and the UAE, arrived at the Red Planet in 2021. Mars is getting all of the attention because some day humans from the planet Earth are going to pay it a visit. SpaceX’s Elon Musk wants to take settlers to the Red Planet to live there.
Also, by choosing two missions to Venus, NASA has decided not to fund missions to Io, a volcanic moon of Jupiter, or Triton, a moon of Neptune. Either undertaking would have been at least as scientifically interesting as Venus.
Nobody is anxious to visit the surface of Venus anytime soon. Venus is a hell world with an atmosphere composed of carbon dioxide and clouds of sulfuric acid. The average surface temperature is roughly 900 degrees Fahrenheit. The atmospheric pressure on the surface of Venus is 90 times that of the Earth’s surface. Robotic probes that have landed on Venus, such as the Soviet Venera, have lasted hours before being crushed and cooked by the extreme conditions.
The reason for NASA’s sudden decision to send probes to Venus has to do with the Biden administration’s new priority of studying and doing something about climate change. NASA scientists have concluded that for the first 2 billion years of its existence, Venus was remarkably like Earth, with oceans and perhaps life of some sort. However, a runaway greenhouse effect occurred that eventually created the planet that Venus is today.
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