Why NASA might send robots to Venus

NASA will be building on its recent highly successful Mars missions by exploring our other next-door neighbor in the solar system.

Kelly Humphrey/Brainerd Dispatch/AP
Venus, lower left, travels between the sun and the earth, in what is known as a Venus transit, in this image taken through a telescope, inverting the image, on Tuesday, June 5, at Central Lakes College in Brainerd, Minn.

As part of its Discovery Program, in which contestants from universities and NASA-affiliated research centers propose ideas for space missions that will have a low cost (usually under $425 million) but a high scientific yield, NASA selected five participants to join in the development of new exploratory ventures. This expands the number of winners in the program beyond the typical one or two.

"The selected investigations have the potential to reveal much about the formation of our solar system and its dynamic processes,” John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, said in a statement. “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.”

In particular, NASA is looking to build off of its recent highly successful explorations to Mars, in which the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter took flyby images that revealed the Red Planet has water underneath its craggy surface. There are two possible missions to Venus that, if funded, could send unmanned spacecraft to Venus, our closest planetary neighbor. The information that these robotic probes could collect would answer many questions about Venus' atmosphere and surface.

Each of the two proposed missions to Venus would fall under the direction of a different NASA center. The first, Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging (DAVINCI), would study the chemical makeup of Venus’ atmosphere. The robotic probe would also use its imaging tools to determine if there are any active volcanoes on Venus’ surface, and how its planetary landscape interacts with its atmosphere.

Lori Glaze, of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, would be the principal investigator for the DAVINCI project. The Goddard Center has done research on Venus in the past; this summer, they examined how light filters through Venus’ atmosphere.

“Learning more about the composition of the atmosphere is very important for understanding the braking process for spacecraft when they enter the upper atmosphere of the planet, a process called aerobraking,” Fabio Reale, the director of that scientific investigation, said in a statement.

The second proposed mission to Venus, called the Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy mission, or VERITAS, seeks to go below the atmosphere. If funded, VERITAS would produce topographical images of Venus’ surface, creating “the first maps of deformation and global surface composition,” according to NASA.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California would direct the VERITAS project. The JPL has launched several successful unmanned spacecraft  to Venus in the past. In 1990, the JPL sent the unmanned spacecraft Magellan to Venus, where it made several successful orbits around that planet, mapping various locations along its surface until it decayed upon entry into Venus’ atmosphere in 1994.  

“[The Discovery Program announcement] sends a very positive message that it’s time to go back to Venus,” Glaze told Science Magazine.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

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.

QR Code to Why NASA might send robots to Venus
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today