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NASA unveils new missions to Venus, Fairbanks scientist tapped to work on the project

Updated: Jun. 4, 2021 at 5:43 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - On June 2nd NASA announced two upcoming missions to Venus as part of their Discovery Program. These will mark NASA’s first return to Earth’s sister planet since 1989 with the launch of spacecraft Magellan. Working on the science team for one of these missions is Robert Herrick, Research Professor at Fairbankowns’ Geophysical Institute.

“There are two missions selected by NASA for future flight later in the decade. One is VERITAS, which is the mission that I’m on. It is an orbiting mission that will be used to both image the surface and get topography,” Herrick said.

According to NASA, VERITAS is scheduled to launch within a 2028-2030 timeframe, and will gather information about the planet’s mostly unknown geology.

“The other mission that was selected is called DaVinci+. It also has an orbiting component but its main focus is an atmospheric probe designed to obtain a lot of information about the atmosphere - information as you descend that will be used to back out the history of water and chemical components in the atmosphere,” said Herrick.

Herrick will be involved in VERITAS in two ways. As part of the science team, he will study the impact craters of Venus to gain understanding of the planet’s history, and will oversee the process of archiving and releasing the missions gathered data to the public.

“Why is Venus important to study? What’s the interest in Venus? If you look at the solar system sort of in context, Venus is 70% of the distance from the sun that earth is, and it’s 95% of the diameter. So in the grand scheme of things Venus and Earth are virtually identical, yet Venus is completely inhospitable to life,” Herrick said.

With these two missions NASA expects to uncover new knowledge about Venus’ gravitational field, the planet’s interior, its geologic history, as well as produce high resolution maps of our cloudy cosmic neighbor.

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