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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The discovery of possible sign of life on Venus is buoying a push by many in the planetary science community to get NASA and other space agencies to send missions to Venus that could sniff out if there really is life there.

Why it matters: NASA hasn't sent a dedicated spacecraft to study Venus from close range in about 30 years, with much of the hunt for life in the solar system focusing instead on Mars.

  • Researchers now think the discovery of phosphine in Venus' atmosphere could propel the hunt for life in a new direction — toward Venus.
  • "I think the '20s could explode as a time when Venus becomes a key part of this wonderful triad of Earth, Venus, Mars, as the end members — the bookends — of how habitable worlds do their thing," James Garvin, a planetary scientist at NASA, told Axios.

Details: While Venus has gotten the short end of the exploration stick for a number of years, scientists have still worked to develop various missions that could investigate the planet from close range.

  • New technology could allow a probe to land and survive on Venus' surface, giving scientists a more clear picture of the world than ever before.
  • Another possible mission called DAVINCI+ could parse out the layers of Venus' atmosphere, potentially providing insights into the origin of the phosphine.
  • Those missions could get a boost in priority thanks to this new discovery.

Background: NASA's Mars exploration program got a huge boost with the 1990s discovery of a Martian meteorite that appeared to show a sign of life within it.

  • This phosphine discovery could be that moment for Venus, even if it doesn't prove to be a sign of life after all.

What to watch: NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said on Twitter Monday that "it's time to prioritize Venus."

  • Rocket Lab has also been developing a mission to Venus, with plans to launch to the nearby world in 2023.
  • Breakthrough Initiatives is also funding work to look into the possibilities for life in Venus' clouds.

Go deeper

How NASA and the Space Force might fare under Biden

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Joe Biden hasn't gone out of his way to talk about outer space during his presidential campaign. That could be bad news for NASA's exploration ambitions, but good news for the Space Force.

The big picture: NASA faces two threats with any new administration: policy whiplash and budget cuts. In a potential Biden administration, the space agency could get to stay the course on the policy front, while competing with other priorities on the spending side.

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Jun 2, 2020 - Science

NASA passes the torch

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

With the historic crewed SpaceX launch last weekend, NASA passed the torch to private companies that will need to step up to build the economy the space agency envisions in orbit.

Why it matters: This new era of spaceflight will likely be marked by new conflicts — possibly including product placement (like the Tesla that drove the astronauts to the pad on Saturday), safety concerns and cultural differences between companies, the space agencies and people they serve.

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Feb 18, 2020 - Science

Trump's improbable moonshot

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

NASA is unlikely to meet its deadline of sending astronauts to the surface of the Moon by 2024, even with a large influx of funding.

Why it matters: The Artemis mission to send people back to the Moon is the Trump administration's flagship space policy, and its aggressive, politically-motivated timeline is its hallmark.