By Doug Cameron 

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration said it had earmarked an initial $1 billion to send the first U.S. probes to Venus in over 30 years, an effort to study what made the Earth's nearest neighbor inhospitable to life.

NASA said on Wednesday that it picked Lockheed Martin Corp. to build and operate two new spacecraft to study the planet's geology and an atmosphere shaped by a runaway greenhouse effect. Scientists believe that what once may have been oceans on Venus boiled away, while an Earthlike climate deteriorated to leave a surface temperature hot enough to melt lead.

Lockheed Martin plans to launch the spacecraft in 2026 and 2030, respectively, and operate both under NASA's evolving public-private partnership model, similar to its plans to return astronauts to the moon later this decade.

Plans for the two programs come as NASA builds on the political and public capital from a renaissance in space exploration. It has celebrated the successful launch of U.S. astronauts on domestic rockets for the first time in more than a decade and the landing of the Perseverance rover on Mars.

"We're ushering in a new decade of Venus to understand how an Earthlike planet can become a hothouse," said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's associate administrator for science.

Write to Doug Cameron at doug.cameron@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

June 02, 2021 17:41 ET (21:41 GMT)

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