Dr. James B. Garvin (NASA Goddard Chief Scientist) tells the story of Venus, from early humans to today’s spacecraft, illuminating what may soon be possible and discussing the possibilities for discovery as rich as any in the universe. He believes that deciphering the story which Venus is waiting to tell us will not be easy, but in the words of a US President at the dawn of the space age, we will explore not because it is easy, but because it is “hard”. By exploring our neglected sister (Venus), we will never wait to wonder. Her secrets will inspire and catalyze new understanding of our home world, and impact our destiny as spacefaring people.
Venus, our nearby “sister” planet, beckons today as a compelling target for exploration that may connect the objects in our own solar system to those discovered around nearby stars. Yet, humanity’s exploration of Venus has been hampered by confusion, technological challenges, and lack of tenacity. In an era that will soon witness a return of people (women and men) to the surface of the Moon and the arrival of samples from the planet Mars to Earth laboratories, together with space tourism and perhaps a new space-based economy, Venus stands out as the least explored of the planets in our solar system. That must change. Building – but woefully incomplete – evidence suggests Venus may have harbored oceans as recently as one billion years ago, yet today is as uninhabitable as any location we have explored in the past ~60 years of the current space age. Thus, Venus may offer glimpses of Earth’s distant past, while holding insights into our own planet’s environmental destiny.
As humanity pushes the frontiers of exploration here on Earth and commemorates the 500th anniversary of Magellan’s circumnavigation, a new “frontier” looms – that of Venus and its massive, chemically complex atmosphere, hellishly hot surface, and mysterious mountainous regions. It is conceivable that over the next decade or so, robotic emissaries from Earth will return to Venus to unravel her untold secrets and illuminate her Earth-relevant history. These missions of exploration will connect Earth and Mars to our sister world, and arm scientists with perspectives needed to understand how ocean-bearing planets evolve, potentially fostering life.