The planet Venus, named for the Roman goddess of Love, certainly wouldn’t be a very loving place to live. On the surface, Venus hosts scorching temperatures of more than 800 degrees Fahrenheit, a heat capable of melting lead, as well as an atmospheric pressure 92 times greater than Earth’s. That’s the same kind of pressure found at nearly 3,000 feet below the ocean’s surface.
These factors are somewhat disheartening, as Venus would make a great place for humans to explore otherwise. The planet is roughly the size of Earth, it’s similar to our world in density and chemical composition, and perhaps most importantly, it’s much closer get to than Mars. Traveling to Venus would only take about 400 days, while a mission to Mars would require between 650 to 900 days in space. The great Carl Sagan once envisioned colonizing Venus; he proposed lowering the temperature of the atmosphere with blue-green algae.
Well, it seems NASA hasn’t totally given up on the idea of sending humans to visit our closer, yet more tempestuous, neighbor. In a recent report, researchers at NASA’s Systems Analysis and Concepts Directorate have proposed a new mission for going to Venus that seems like it comes straight out of Star Wars.
According to IEEE Spectrum, Dale Arney and Chris Jones, the authors of the report, envision a mission called HAVOC, or the High Altitude Venus Operational Concept. Through HAVOC, astronauts would explore the upper atmosphere of Venus, riding above the planet’s clouds in huge solar-powered airships (Cloud City, anyone?). At about 80 miles above Venus’ surface, the atmospheric pressure and gravitational forces are pretty comparable to those of Earth. And the temperature is only 167 degrees Fahrenheit, which is still pretty hot, but manageable.
HAVOC would encompass a series of missions, with multiple trips to and from Venus. Initial crews would travel to the planet’s upper atmosphere and remain in orbit for 30 days. Later crews would stay up to two years in the clouds, followed by a floating cloud city in which colonists could live.
The ship that would house these Venus-faring astronauts would resemble something like a huge blimp, filled with helium and powered by the sun. An array of solar panels on the top of the airship would take advantage of the sun’s close presence, and even though Venus is only a (relatively) short distance away from our star, its upper atmosphere offers a lot of protection from radiation, “about the same as if you were in Canada.”
IEEE Spectrum has more details on the logistics of the airship, as well as the complicated process of getting such a spacecraft into Venus’ atmosphere. Of course, NASA could always just use an anti-gravity pod…