Why NASA doing research on Mars and not Venus?

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Why NASA doing research on Mars and not Venus?
Why NASA doing research on Mars and not Venus?

Venus' hellish surface as photographed by Soviet Venera lander.

Venus has been called Earth's twin. While it is roughly the same size and is close-by in the solar system, it is far from Earth-like. With surface temperatures hot enough to melt lead, atmospheric pressures about 100 times that of Earth's sea-level, and atmospheric composition heavy with sulfuric acid, Venus is a hellish world that kills space probes hours, if not minutes after landing. The expense of building probes for Venus exploration is on par with that of Mars-bound probes. The problem is the return on investment. If you spend a billion dollars for the privilege of asking questions about a far-away planet, you would like the robotic investigator to survive as long as it can so it can get as much data as possible to answer your questions. Mars, as hard as it is on spacecraft, is the easy option; the “low hanging fruit". This in no way diminishes the value of questions about Venus. It only means that, for your money, you will get many more answers about Mars.

That said, many space agencies including NASA have sent probes to Venus. The image above is generated from radar data collected by NASA's Magellan orbiter. At the top, the hazy surface is imaged by one of the Soviet Venera landers. Their Vega probe consisted of a lander and an instrumented balloon (a contribution by the French, if memory serves). The ESA and JAXA have also sent orbiters to/past Venus, and in the 1970s, NASA's Pioneer program included two orbiters, one of which had four entry probes for atmospheric investigation.

Advantages for Mars

  • Its soil contains water to extract.
  • It isn’t too cold or too hot.
  • There is enough sunlight to use solar panels.
  • Gravity on Mars is 38% that of our Earth's, which is believed by many to be sufficient for the human body to adapt.
  • It has an atmosphere (albeit a thin one) that offers protection from cosmic and the Sun's radiation.
  • The day/night rhythm is very similar to ours here on Earth: a Mars day is 24 hours, 39 minutes, and 35 seconds.

The End Notes

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