NASA is returning to Venus in two new missions aimed at learning how Earth's closest neighbor became the sizzling-hot world it is today.
In an effort to determine if the planet was ever habitable, one mission will analyze the atmosphere, while the other will map out Venus' surface.
NASA's new administrator, Bill Nelson, announced the two new robotic missions to Venus during his first major address to employees on Wednesday.
"These two sister missions both aim to understand how Venus became an inferno-like world capable of melting lead at the surface," Nelson said.
Only two NASA missions in history have visited Venus — Pioneer in 1978 and Magellan in 1989.
It was the Pioneer mission that first suggested that Venus, which shares many characteristics with Earth, may have had an ocean at one point.
The planet may have been the first habitable one in the solar system, with an ocean and climate similar to Earth's, before it became the fiery world it is today.
"It is astounding how little we know about Venus, but the combined results of these missions will tell us about the planet from the clouds in its sky through the volcanoes on its surface all the way down to its very core," Tom Wagner, NASA's Discovery Program scientist, said.
"It will be as if we have rediscovered the planet."
One of the missions, DAVINCI+, will analyze the thick, cloudy atmosphere on the planet to determine if it was once habitable.
A small craft will enter the atmosphere to measure gases.
The other mission, Veritas, will look for a geologic history by mapping out the planet's rocky surface.
The missions will launch sometime around 2028 to 2030.
Each will receive $500million for development under NASA's Discovery program.
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