Forget Mars, Why Not Colonize Venus Instead?

Coburn Palmer

Elon Musk has announced plans to colonize Mars in the near future and NASA is planning a manned mission to the red planet in the 2030's, but for some reason we aren't talking about Venus.

The second planet in our solar system, Venus, is much closer than Mars, has Earthlike gravity, and a heavier atmosphere could offer better protection to interplanetary settlers than the red planet.

It's so similar to our planet it's been nicknamed "Earth's twin next door," so why isn't anyone talking about colonizing Venus, sometimes lovingly referred to as the Evening Star. Gabe Perez-Giz and the people over at PBS's popular web series SpaceTime say it all has to do with something they call Surfacism.

"Ever since the days of seafaring exploration we've had an obsession with landing on the surface of things. If you don't plant a flag on something it's almost like having gotten there doesn't count."

It also means a manned mission to the second planet in the solar system would require significantly less fuel, food, and supplies for astronauts and potential settlers, which would translate into a cheaper trip. That has real meaning if mankind ever intends to establish offworld colonies and become a two planet species.

The thick atmosphere on Venus would protect astronauts better than the thin layer of protection offered by the red planet and the presence of carbon dioxide means colonists could potentially produce their own oxygen.

The planet's heavier gravity, much more like that of Earth than Mars could ever be, would be easier on the bodies of space explorers and prevent the bone loss present in astronauts who spend a lot of time in space.

Power is also an issue since Venus is much closer to the sun than Mars, solar panels would produce much more energy than those on the red planet.

Although Venus does have a solid surface like the Earth, humans can't land there as the temperature hovers around 842 degrees Fahrenheit, a hot day by any measurement. The surface is also under intense pressure; any spacecraft that made planetfall would be crushed like an egg.

Some 30 miles above the surface, however, the temperature and pressure become much more like Earth than any other place in the solar system, so colonists could live in cloud cities like the one run by Lando Calrissian in Star Wars.

NASA in fact designed such a living environment, essentially a blimp city, and dubbed it the High Altitude Venus Operational Concept (HAVOC), NASA aerospace engineer Christopher A. Jones told CNN.

"One concept is a lighter-than-air vehicle that could carry either a host of instruments and probes, or a habitat and ascent vehicle for a crew of two astronauts to explore Venus for up to a month."

"Eventually, a short duration human mission would allow us to gain experience having humans live at another world, with the hope that it would someday be possible to live in the atmosphere permanently."

Any spacecraft sent to the planet would need to slow itself with aerobraking maneuvers in time to for the blimp to deploy and be inflated so the airship would float above the ground instead of plummeting to the surface and being crushed like an egg, Jones told CNN.

"With advances in technology and further refinement of the concept, missions to the Venusian atmosphere can expand humanity's future in space."

[Image by 3quarks/Thinkstock]