By Joey Roulette
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – NASA is considering approving until next April up to two planetary science missions from four proposals under review, including one for Venus, which scientists involved in the project said could help determine whether this planet is alive or not.
An international research team on Monday described evidence of potential microbes found in the hard-acid Venus clouds: traces of phosphine, a gas produced on earth by bacteria living in oxygen-free environments. It provided strong potential evidence for life beyond Earth.
The U.S. space agency in February mapped out four proposed missions now being reviewed by a NASA panel, two of which will involve robot probes for Venus. One of them, called DAVINCI +, would send a probe into the Venusian atmosphere.
“Davinci is the logical one to choose if you are partially motivated by wanting to follow this up ̵
The other three proposals include: IVO, a mission to Jupiter’s volcanically active moon Io; Trident, a fly-by trek to map Neptune’s icy moon Triton; and VERITAS, the second of the proposed Venus missions that would instead focus on understanding the planet’s geological history. NASA has said it can select one or two of the missions.
The search for life elsewhere in the solar system has so far not been focused on Venus. In fact, in July, NASA launched a next-generation rover to look for traces of potentially past life on Mars.
In light of Monday’s findings, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said it was “time to prioritize Venus.” In a statement, Bridenstine said the selection process for the new potential missions would be tough “but I know the process will be fair and impartial.”
Grinspoon, a senior researcher at the Planetary Science Institute, said the selection process should be responsive to recent scientific discoveries.
“If there was a mission to Triton as a finalist, and then someone with a telescope, you know, observed a football stadium on Triton, then without a doubt yes, we should send a mission there,” Grinspoon said.
(Reporting by Joey Roulette; Editing by Will Dunham)