Tulane Scientist Helping Plan NASA Mission to Venus

Jennifer Whitten, a planetary scientist in the Tulane Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, has been researching the planet Venus for the past six years. (Photo by Paula Burch-Celentano)

NEW ORLEANS – Tulane University’s Jennifer Whitten, an assistant professor in the department of earth and environmental sciences, will contribute to NASA’s upcoming VERITAS mission to Venus. Scheduled to begin between 2028 and 2030, the mission will launch a satellite into orbit around the fiery planet to capture high resolution images of its surface.

Whitten will serve as an associate deputy principal investigator on the project

“From launch to the end of data collection, the mission is planned to take approximately five years, and that does not take into account all the work that has to happen beforehand,” said Whitten in a release. “I cannot wait to see what secrets Venus will reveal. Whatever they are, it’s going to be exciting.”

The mission will be the first one NASA has sent to Venus since the 1990s. It is one of two selected by NASA to explore how the planet became an inferno-like world despite its similarities to Earth. The other is named DAVINCI+.

VERITAS (an acronym for “Venus emissivity, radio science, insar, topography and spectroscopy”) will map Venus’ surface to determine the planet’s geologic history and understand why it developed so differently than Earth.

“We want to characterize this divergence to better understand what makes a habitable planet. With VERITAS, we are striving to understand how planets evolve to have these characteristics that can support life and how the planet evolved away from hospitable conditions,” said Whitten.

The project is being managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, based in Pasadena, Calif.

Whitten, who has been researching Venus for six years, said she was asked to participate on VERITAS in 2018 as the team was preparing to submit its mission proposal to NASA.

“Being part of a mission team from the start is an incredible experience,” she said. “I’ve had the privilege of seeing how a mission proposal is put together and will now get to observe the construction and assembly, launch, orbit insertion and data collection and analysis. This is an invaluable experience for my career as I am interested in continuing to participate in mission science.”

The cost of the mission is approximately $500 million, which is considered low budget by space exploration standards.

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