A space advocacy organization is rallying the scientific community in an effort to revive NASA’s VERITAS mission to Venus, which has been delayed indefinitely due to staff and budgeting issues at the space agency.
This week, the Planetary Society published an open letter to Congress calling for a 2029 launch date for the Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy (VERITAS) mission. The letter has already been signed by other organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and Mount Holyoke College. The campaign is also asking the public to contact their representatives in Congress and raise awareness of the mission through the hashtag #SaveVERITAS.
VERITAS was originally slated for launch in 2027, but NASA’s plan to send a spacecraft to Venus was derailed when an independent review board uncovered major institutional problems at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The board was put together to examine the delay of the Psyche mission to a metal-rich asteroid, which missed its launch window in August 2022, but instead uncovered a host of issues that went far beyond that one mission. As a result, NASA decided to put VERITAS on hold.
The release of NASA’s 2024 budget proposal in March further solidified VERITAS’ uncertain fate, with the White House requesting $1.5 million for the mission instead of the projected $56.7 million. “VERITAS was on budget and on schedule until NASA removed funds for the project in November of 2022,” the Planetary Society wrote in a statement. “The space agency subsequently removed all development funds for the foreseeable future, indefinitely delaying the project.”
The proposed amount for VERITAS’ funding is “barely enough to keep us alive,” Darby Dyar, deputy principal investigator of the VERITAS mission, told Gizmodo in an interview last month. There is a launch window opening up for VERITAS in 2029. However, the VERITAS team would need funding at least five years before the anticipated launch of the mission to prepare, which is why it’s important that the team receives the funding as part of the 2024 budget.
“We urge the Committees to direct NASA to launch VERITAS no later than November 2029 — a two-year delay — in the anticipated NASA reauthorization legislation,” the Planetary Society wrote. “A firm commitment to a launch date helps NASA plan and budget the project accordingly, reassures our international and commercial partners, and affirms the United States’ commitment to leading the world in planetary exploration.”
NASA’s last mission to Venus, Magellan, arrived at the planet in 1989 and concluded science operations in 1994. Since then, NASA hasn’t sent a mission to Earth’s neighboring planet, which resembles Earth in size and composition (in an evil twin sort of way) and could help us learn more about our own planet. The VERITAS orbiter mission would provide fundamental data on Venus, the kind NASA has been missing out on for the past 30 years.
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