Mars Is Neat, but What About a Mission to Venus?

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Scientists Say We Have the Tools, We Have the Technology, Let’s Go on a Mission to Venus Tomorrow!

A month ago, a group of scientists and others from the Venus Exploration Analysis Group (VEXAG) presented recommendations to NASA’s planetary science advisory committee. They want a mission to Venus (or several) and they want it right away. According to the VEXAG reps, we have the technology right now to get a mission off the ground tomorrow.

Mars represents the big prize for NASA at the moment. However, VEXAG claims that our understanding of Venus is severely lacking. They urged NASA to consider approval for a number of different missions to study our next closest neighbor (Venus and Mars are sometimes interchangeable in that respect) in great detail.

And they’re not necessarily wrong. Other than flybys, we haven’t sent a dedicated probe to Venus in over a quarter-century. Part of the reason for this is the discovery of water on Mars, and the possibility for habitation. But VEXAG says it’s high time to shift focus from what we already know about Mars to the vast amounts of knowledge that are waiting for us on Venus.

Why Go To Venus?

In an interview with Space.com, Dr. Darby Dyar, chair of astronomy at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, said, “The Mars program has ‘followed the water’ and continued to look for evidence of life, but Mars only had liquid water present on its surface for a few hundred million years, [about] three billion years ago.” Dr. Dyar also made the presentation to NASA last month on behalf of VEXAG.

He continued, “Moreover, the Mars program has long united around a single goal, which is to bring samples back from Mars. NASA Headquarters is supporting that goal with planning now. So my feeling is that although many outstanding science questions about Mars remain, they are second-order compared to the dire state of knowledge about Venus.”

What Kinds of Missions Are We Talking About?

Well, for the moment, we’re not talking about any manned missions. Venus has a surface temperature of around 900 degrees Fahrenheit. So, unless we can invent some really neat refrigerator suits, that’s probably off the table for a while. 

On the other hand, some of the missions that are on the table include DAVINCI (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging), which will measure the chemical composition of the “morning star.” Another is the VERITAS (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy) orbiter, which will gather detailed information about the planet’s surface. 

What’s Standing in the Way?

Mars. Plain and simple. While the past twenty-five years have seen numerous proposals from scientists like those at VEXAG, getting approval has been nearly impossible. Around NASA, it seems, all roads currently lead to Mars. A while back, one might have pointed to that high surface temperature I referenced above as a roadblock for a mission to Venus. Those days, however, are behind us. NASA currently has heat shield technology that is more than capable of withstanding the harsh conditions on Venus. 

The ultimate goal of studying Venus, as with all other planetary bodies in our solar system, is to provide a clearer picture of the early history of our solar system, as well as how planets are formed. Without detailed probes in the atmosphere and on the surface, however, the bright morning star is keeping us in the dark.

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Brandon Humphreys

Brandon Humphreys

I'm a wizard. I write stuff and it goes from my head into yours - Magic! Apart from that, I am the Senior Editor for Space Porn, a veteran, a rock guitarist, and a teacher.

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