NASA announced Wednesday that two missions will visit Venus by the end of this decade, the first direct exploration of the hot planet since 1994. One spacecraft is set to orbit Venus, mapping it and studying it from above, while the other will attempt to land on the surface, sampling the planet’s atmosphere as it descends to understand its chemical composition. The missions are the latest to come out of NASA’s Discovery Program, which is essentially an in-house incubator for planetary science missions.
“These two sister missions both aim to understand how Venus became an inferno-like world capable of melting lead at the surface,” said NASA administrator Bill Nelson in a press conference today. “They will offer the entire science community the chance to investigate a planet we haven’t been to in more than 30 years.”
DAVINCI+ is short for the Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging Plus, and VERITAS, besides being Latin for “truth,” is short for the Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy. DAVINCI+ will probe the planet’s atmosphere to understand its chemistry, while the primary goal of VERITAS will be to learn how Venus evolved into such a hellscape, with surface temperatures of nearly 900 degrees Fahrenheit and an atmosphere so heavy it would crush you. While today’s press conference didn’t mention any hunt for alien organisms, NASA has previously broached the tantalizing possibility of microbial life floating around in Venus’ atmosphere, and a controversial finding last year suggested a gas associated with life might be present there. As reported by The New York Times, the study prompted then-administrator Jim Brindenstine to say “it’s time to prioritize Venus.” And now, NASA has.
These missions beat out two other proposals: Trident and the Io Volcanic Observer, which proposed to make a flyby of Neptune’s largest moon and conduct 10 flybys of Jupiter’s moon Io, respectively, as previously reported by Gizmodo. DAVINCI+ and VERITAS will be added to the future Discovery Program docket, which currently includes the Lucy and Psyche missions to explore Trojan asteroids near Jupiter and a metal-rich asteroid that orbits past Mars. A NASA press release published alongside the agency’s televised announcement today slated the two probes to launch sometime between 2028 and 2030. The two currently active Discovery Program missions are the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the InSight lander on Mars.