NASA aims for 2 new missions to Venus to learn more about ‘lost habitable’ world

In 1989, NASA used a space shuttle to send its Magellan spacecraft into orbit around Venus

For the past few years, Mars has been having its moment.

The planet has captured the fascination of Hollywood, the U.S. and China both landed rovers on its surface and Elon Musk, the head of SpaceX, recently announced that his company hopes to launch its next-generation rocket in 2022 from a platform in the Gulf of Mexico. His sights are set on Mars.

Other planets have become something of an afterthought. When was the last time you caught yourself thinking about Neptune? Pluto had the worst fate of all and in 2006 was downgraded to dwarf planet.

But NASA on Wednesday announced its intention to bring more attention to Venus, the second planet from the sun. The planet–which is one of the brightest objects in the night sky– is considered an “inferno-like world” but may have been “the first habitable world in the solar system, complete with an ocean and Earth-like climate.”

NASA said in a statement that the two missions to the planet will be part of its Discovery Program and will award about $500 million per mission for development. The voyages are expected to take place at the end of the decade.

One will study the planet’s atmosphere, which could shed light on whether the planet once had an ocean. The other mission will study the planet’s surface in hopes to learn “why it developed so differently than Earth.”

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