Greetings, and thanks for reading Axios Space, our weekly look at the science and business of space exploration.
Please send your scoops, tips, questions and alien abduction stories to firstname.lastname@example.org, or just reply to this email.
Venus seen by Mariner 10 in 1974. Photo: NASA
Venus is sometimes considered Earth’s "evil twin," and yet we know frustratingly little about it, creating a blind spot in our own history.
The big picture: NASA has prioritized Mars, Earth's other sibling planet. The space agency has launched more than a dozen spacecraft to study the red world over the past 30 years and is planning to eventually send humans there. Meanwhile, in that time, NASA only launched one dedicated mission — Magellan — to Venus.
Details: The missions that have studied Venus, including spacecraft from other nations, provided tantalizing clues. Future missions could help us learn more about the past and future of our own solar system and better characterize planets far from our sun.
Meanwhile: As NASA focuses on Mars, the Moon and more distant objects, international space agencies are looking to Venus.
What's next? In the early 2020s, scientists will get another chance to make their case that Venus is worthy of its own NASA mission.
Mars seen by the Hubble Space Telescope. Photo: NASA/ESA/STScI
One of the underlying reasons for the disparity in Mars vs. Venus missions might be that the rocky, red planet has captured our collective imagination in ways that Venus — with its thick cloud cover and over 800°F surface temperatures — hasn't.
Why it matters: Science fiction novels and films depict Mars colonies, and permanent Mars settlements are a goal of billionaire space entrepreneurs like Elon Musk. NASA is aiming to send humans to Mars by the 2030s.
Background: In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Percival Lowell popularized the idea that long canals on the Martian surface were the vestiges of an intelligent civilization. While Lowell's explanation turned out to be wrong, he helped bring those ideas to the public. And since then, our obsession has only grown.
"Mars is a planet that you can see with a backyard telescope. You can see changes on the surface from year to year and season to season. You can see polar caps. There's a sense of it being an Earth-like place."— Planetary scientist David Grinspoon
The Apollo 12 lunar landing descending to the surface of the moon. Photo: NASA/JSC
NASA wants to return humans to the surface of the Moon by 2024 as part of its newly minted Artemis program, but they're having trouble getting congressional buy-in.
What's happening: Last week, the space agency rolled out an amended budget for Fiscal Year 2020, asking for an extra $1.6 billion to get astronauts back on the Moon four years earlier than initially planned.
“Before NASA expects any funding to accelerate the mission to the moon, it needs to provide the Appropriations Committee with the total cost of landing humans in space in 2024, the estimate of any additional costs incurred for speeding up the timeline as well as the technical details of the plan. Cutting Pell grants to fund this initiative is a slap in the face to millions of need-based students."— Congressman José Serrano, in a statement to Axios
What they’re saying: “I think the fundamental issue is whether Congress agrees with the White House that acceleration of the lunar program is a good idea. And my intuition is that the answer to that question is yes," John Logsdon, the founder of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, tells Axios.
Artist's illustration of New Horizons near a Kuiper Belt object. Illustration: JHUAPL/SwRI
As NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft continues to speed through the solar system after its historic rendezvous with Pluto and Ultima Thule, scientists on Earth are thinking up ways to do even more with the mission.
Why it matters: New Horizons transformed our understanding of the solar system by revealing ice mountains on Pluto’s surface and beaming back photos of Ultima Thule, a leftover from the dawn of the solar system.
Driving the news: New Horizons scientists just published their first study detailing the Ultima Thule encounter, and the team is planning to ask NASA for another extended mission for the spacecraft next year.
Details: While the Hubble Space Telescope discovered Ultima Thule, the target for the spacecraft’s current extended mission, the team will likely need to rely on New Horizons' onboard cameras to find the next destination, Stern said.
The Hubble Space Telescope seen from the Atlantis space shuttle. Photo: NASA
As commercial spaceflight takes off, the aviation industry gets protective of airspace (Loren Grush, The Verge)
Dear Hubble: How one telescope transformed astronomy, and us all (Joshua Sokol, National Geographic)
Everything you need to know about Blue Origin (Axios)
NASA’s full Artemis plan revealed: 37 launches and a lunar outpost (Eric Berger, Ars Technica)
Moondust could cloud our lunar ambitions (Ceridwen Dovey, Wired)
A visualization of where our sun sits in the Milky Way Galaxy. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt
This visualization, produced in 2017, shows exactly where scientists think the Sun is located in our Milky Way Galaxy.
Our sun is located on the Orion Spur, which is about 10,000 light-years long and considered a "partial arm."
Thanks for spending time with me this Tuesday! See you back here next week. 🌠