Destination Venus? NASA announces five finalists for next Discovery mission

NASA announced five investigative teams to explore focused scientific questions, one or two of which will result in flight missions.

JPL-Caltech/NASA
Artist's concept of the Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy (Veritas) spacecraft, a proposed mission for NASA's Discovery program.

Next stop, Venus?

NASA announced Thursday it has green-lighted five investigations into potential missions over the next year as a first step in selecting one or two flights as early as 2020 as part of its Discovery Program.

The program was created in 1992 – funding 12 missions to date – and sponsors cost-capped solar system exploration missions with hyper-focused scientific goals. Out of 27 submissions this year, the pool was culled to five proposals, two of which would study Venus, with the others exploring near-Earth objects and a variety of asteroids. 

Each investigation team is granted $3 million, considered a low-cost investment by the space agency, to conduct concept design studies and analyses. NASA will make the final selections by September 2016 following mission pitches. Any selected mission will cost approximately $500 million, not including launch vehicle funding or the cost of post-launch operations, according to NASA

"The selected investigations have the potential to reveal much about the formation of our solar system and its dynamic processes,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “Dynamic and exciting missions like these hold promise to unravel the mysteries of our solar system and inspire future generations of explorers. It’s an incredible time for science, and NASA is leading the way.”

Those selected to pursue concept design studies and pitch their ideas to NASA by September 2016 in this round are:

Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging (DAVINCI) 

DAVINCI would endeavor a 63-minute descent to Venus to study the chemical composition of the planet's atmosphere, seeking answers to questions like whether there are volcanoes active today on the surface of Venus, and how the surface interacts with the atmosphere of the planet. Lori Glaze of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., is the principal investigator on this project.

Psyche

Asteroid Psyche is the subject of the eponymous project, which will seek to understand the origin of planetary cores by studying the metallic asteroid. The team thinks the asteroid is likely "the survivor" of a crash with another space object that stripped off the outer, rocky layers of a protoplanet. Linda Elkins-Tanton of Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona is the principal investigator. 

JPL-Caltech/NASA
Artist's concept of the Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy (Veritas) spacecraft, a proposed mission for NASA's Discovery program.

The Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy mission (VERITAS)

The goal of VERITAS is to make global, high-resolution mapping of Venus’ surface and produce the first-ever maps of global surface composition. Suzanne Smrekar of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., is the principal investigator. 

Near Earth Object Camera (NEOCam)

NEOCam would discover ten times more near-Earth objects than all NEOs discovered to date, and endeavor to characterize them. Amy Mainzer of JPL is the principal investigator.

JPL-Caltech/NASA
Artist's concept of the NEOCam spacecraft, a proposed mission for NASA's Discovery program that would conduct an extensive survey for potentially hazardous near-Earth asteroids.

Lucy

Lucy seeks to understand the history of the solar system through a mission the Jupiter Trojan asteroids, objects thought to hold some important clues. Harold Levison of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado is the principal investigator. 

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.