NASA scientists are envisioning a future manned mission to Venus, during which astronauts would live in solar-powered airships 31 miles above the planet’s hostile surface.
The project, which is still theoretical, has been dubbed the High Altitude Venus Operational Concept (HAVOC), according to the Daily Mail, and it would begin with a robotic scout sent ahead to determine conditions in the clouds of Venus. This would be followed by a 30-day manned mission, during which astronauts would live in a solar-powered zeppelin-like ship. Eventually, NASA envisions a “city” in the clouds composed of multiple zeppelins, which would hover at a spot in Venus’ atmosphere where the temperature is around 167 degrees Fahrenheit.
Though most space explorers have focused their attention on a manned mission to Mars, as the Inquisitr previously reported, there are several factors that make Venus a potentially more hospitable planet for NASA to target. Though the surface of Venus is deadly, Chris Jones, from the Space Mission Analysis Branch of NASA’s Systems Analysis and Concepts Directorate at Langley Research Center, notes that the planet’s atmosphere is a different story.
“The vast majority of people, when they hear the idea of going to Venus and exploring, think of the surface, where it’s hot enough to melt lead and the pressure is the same as if you were almost a mile underneath the ocean,” Jones said. “I think that not many people have gone and looked at the relatively much more hospitable atmosphere and how you might tackle operating there for a while.”
As IEEE notes, at 50 kilometers above the surface, Venus exhibits one atmosphere of pressure and slightly less gravity than Earth. Its proximity to the Sun also makes solar power a major asset for any potential visitors.
The mission would begin with an unmanned probe, resembling a zeppelin, which would test the atmosphere. If approved, two astronauts would follow, on a 110-day-trip that would take them to Venus. The pair would then live in the gondola below the airship for 30 days, before leaving to return to Earth, a trip that would take 300 days. The entire Venus mission could be accomplished in 440 days, nearly three months faster than the most optimistic mission to Mars.
Following the successful completion of that mission, a year-long trip to Venus would be planned, followed by a more permanent settlement. The atmosphere of Venus would also help to protect astronauts from radiation, another factor that makes it preferable to Mars.
“Venus has value as a destination in and of itself for exploration and colonization,” Jones said. “There are things that you would need to do for a Mars mission, but we see a little easier path through Venus.”
Whether or not the HAVOC mission makes sense, it will still take a massive policy shift for NASA to aim for Venus instead of Mars.
[Image: NASA via the Daily Mail]