Futuristic Space

NASA is ending its 30-year Venus drought with two new missions

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Back to Venus
Good morning! Today: NASA is going back to Venus for the first time since 1989 with two new missions, how the ransomware crisis got so bad, and cicada-tracking apps are all the rage. Get your friends to sign up here to get The Download every day.

NASA is ending its 30-year Venus drought with two new missions

What’s happening: NASA hasn’t been to Venus for almost 30 years. That’s about to change. Yesterday, the agency announced that it has selected two new missions to explore Venus: DAVINCI+ and VERITAS.

What they’ll do: The spacecraft DAVINCI’s mission is to study the history and evolution of the atmosphere, climate, and water on Venus while orbiter VERITAS is meant to help scientists learn about Venus’s innards—its volcanic and tectonic history, its mass and gravitational field, its geochemistry, and to what extent the planet is still seismically active. The fact that both missions are expected to travel to Venus around the same time—between 2028 and 2030—means they can complement each other.

Why now: It’s honestly a bit hard to understand why NASA has not been more bullish about going back to Venus in such a long time. It’s tough to explore because of its hostile environment—extremely high temperatures and high pressures—but we know conditions weren’t always so harsh. Venus and Earth started out as similar words. But only Earth became habitable, while Venus turned into a hellscape. These new missions will help us understand why. Read the full story.   

—Neel V. Patel

Why the ransomware crisis suddenly feels so relentless

Just weeks after a major American oil pipeline was struck by hackers, a cyberattack hit the world’s largest meat supplier. But while the onslaught we’ve seen in the last month feels new, hackers holding services hostage and demanding payments has been a huge business for years. Hospitals, schools, US cities, governments, and even the military have been targeted.

What’s different now? It isn’t just a matter of growing awareness. The ransomware crisis really is getting worse.

Here’s why:

  • Inaction. The global ransomware crisis grew to incredible proportions during the Donald Trump presidency. Even as US critical infrastructure, cities, and oil pipelines were hit, the Trump administration did little to address the problem, and it went ignored by most Americans.
  • New tactics. Ransomware operations are now much more sophisticated, and everyone gets paid so handsomely that it’s become increasingly irresistible—especially because the gangs typically suffer no consequences. 
  • Criminals are protected. The hackers work from countries where they can avoid prosecution.
  • We’re more connected than ever. Weak cybersecurity combined with ubiquitous connectivity equals increasingly vulnerable targets. Read the full story.

—Patrick Howell O'Neill

The Brood X cicadas are here — and yes, there’s an app for that

A mass arrival: After 17 years lying dormant, billions of cicadas are emerging across the US. Brood X has lain dormant for 17 years before arising to “scream” and mate—and it lasts about three thunderous weeks. Faced with an onslaught of the bizarre creatures, people are doing what any modern human would do: Googling it. And they’re finding apps.

Tracking the cicadas: An app called Cicada Safari lets users track sightings of cicadas on a map, as well as upload photos of insects they spot. It’s riding a wave, with nearly 180,000 downloads as of publication. The team of 20 volunteers behind it are receiving 16,000 photos a day currently, and they’re on track to get half a million overall.

A wider trend: Cicada Safari is capitalizing on many people wanting to get out into nature during the pandemic, plus the rising popularity of citizen science apps. What unites these communities is a feeling we’ve missed over the past year: awe. Read the full story.

—Tanya Basu

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these weird times. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet 'em at me.)

  + A livestream of some OUTRAGEOUSLY CUTE otters. Thank you Jeff!
+ A virtual walking tour of New York City. (NYT $)
+ People are having a lot of fun on social media with this tomato puree spillage in Cambridgeshire, England.
+ Old movie stars dancing to Uptown Funk. Thanks Donna.
+ You can apparently get Brutalist skittles now.
+ As the weather warms, treat yourself to an iced chai. Or if coffee is more your thing, it's unbelievably easy to make cold brew.
+ An artist managed to sell a non-existent sculpture for more than $18,000.


AI can be a powerful tool in ushering in a post-pandemic normal—but it must be deployed and used in a way that’s fair to all.

Learn more here.

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 We're on the cusp of an mRNA vaccine revolution ๐Ÿ’‰
The technology that brought us covid-19 vaccines could be used to tackle flu, HIV, or malaria. (Wired UK)
  + Canada is going to let people mix covid-19 vaccines. (NYT $)
  + As the US starts to return to normal, some countries face their worst outbreaks yet. (NYT $)
  + The UK is planning a new "pandemic radar" system. (Wired)

2 Meat supplier JBS is reopening after a ransomware attack
It says its plants will get back up to full capacity today. (Bloomberg $)
  + Russian cybercrime group REvil apparently perpetrated the attack. (CNBC)
  + Another day, another ransomware attack. This one was on Massachusetts Steamship Authority. (Fox)

3 The reopening anxiety is real
We've learned to fear people. It'll take a while to unlearn it. (New Yorker $)
4 AI is causing a scramble for healthcare data
The benefits could be huge—but so are the risks. (FT $)
  + Google says it's committed to ethical AI research. Its ethical AI team isn't so sure. (Recode)

5 When does content moderation become censorship?
We need to think very carefully about where we go from here. (Wired $)
6 The major problems with the crime app Citizen
I'm not convinced it should exist, frankly. (NBC)
  + Former employees say it was a deeply traumatic and uncaring place to work. (The Guardian)

7 Trump's blog has shut down
Maybe shouting into the void didn't seem like a great use of anyone's time. (CNBC)
8 Why a mediocre keyboard app is topping the app charts โŒจ๏ธ
Recommended reading if you want to feel extremely old. (Gizmodo)
9 The SEC is really struggling to rein in Elon Musk
The man just cannot stop tweeting. (WSJ $)
10 A better way to work out just how big volcanic eruptions will be ๐ŸŒ‹
Researchers are getting better at reading hidden signals like seismic waves and satellite observations. (Quanta)

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"Get a shot and have a beer."

—President Joe Biden advertises a free beer giveaway by Anheuser-Busch to encourage Americans to pull together to reach the goal of 70% of adults at least partially vaccinated by Independence Day. 

Charlotte Jee

Top image credit: NASA | JPL-CALTECH

Please send tomato puree to

Follow me on Twitter at @charlottejee. Thanks for reading!


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