Should Venus orbit be included in the Flexible Path?
Another potential Flexible Path (deep space) destination that was not listed in the Committee's report is Venus orbit. One could argue that Mars orbit is more compelling than Venus orbit because of the Mars moons, unassisted views of the Martian surface from orbit, and greater potential for later astronaut work on that surface. Such an argument could be quite convincing. However, if Mars orbit is reached, it seems that the option to reach Venus orbit could then be considered, at least as a Flexible Path "off-ramp".
Venus orbit allows teleoperation of surface robots just as Mars orbit does. The heat at Venus's surface may make teleoperations even more useful because heat-producing and heat-sensitive electronics on surface robots can be replaced with telecommands. As with Mars, teleoperation may be useful in Venus's atmosphere with robotic planes or balloons. Venus surface or atmosphere sample return may be an option just as it is on Mars. Remote sensing of Venus could take place from orbit. Solar observations are another possibility. At the risk of straying too far into fiction territory, perhaps an astronaut mission in the upper Venusian atmosphere could even be achieved. Venus may also be a compelling destination given the insight it might give on climate processes.
The Flexible Path already has "off-ramps". Why not include Venus orbit as another potential future "off-ramp" - one that at the moment we don't plan to travel?