NASA is busy working on a conceptual crewed mission to the planet Venus that is known as the High Altitude Venus Operational Concept (HAVOC), but it may not be quite what you think at first.
When authors wrote about Venus at the start of the 20th century, they frequently characterized it as a lush, tropical paradise of the kind that might be suitable for a summer vacation, and in 1950 the Hayden Planetarium at the American Natural History Museum even went so far as to take reservations for the lucky people who were interested in visiting the planet as space tourists, according to Popular Science.
These days, however, no one is quite as doe-eyed about Venus as they once were, and scientists know it to be a harsh master whose surface temperatures reach a fierce 460 degrees C (860 degrees F), which would melt you faster than if you were on Mercury. However, NASA isn’t planning on actually landing on the planet itself, but are interested in exploring its dense atmosphere instead.
To that end, their HAVOC project will begin with small missions to start out with, hopefully leading to longer ones, although as of now NASA has not publicly announced any dates to head to Venus yet. If you’re wondering if we have the technology capable of sending us to Venus to learn more about its atmosphere at the present time, you can rest easy, because the answer to that question is a firm yes. In fact, with the correct airships, NASA should be able to hover over the upper atmosphere of Venus for quite some time.
As shocking as it may sound, the upper atmosphere of Venus is as close as we are going to get to find an area that is as similar to Earth in the solar system, at least as far as planets in the Milky Way go. In areas of the planet’s atmosphere that range from 50km to 60km, both the temperature and pressure are very similar to areas that can be found in the lower atmosphere of Earth. And with the pressure of Venus at 55km being around half what you would find at sea level on Earth, astronauts wouldn’t even need to wear a pressure suit. They also wouldn’t have to worry about insulating themselves as temperatures would only be between 20 and 30 degrees C.
With NASA’s HAVOC project, the spaceship that is being considered would be propelled by wind and may contain gas mixtures like nitrogen and oxygen which would make the ship buoyant. While radar on the US Magellan mission has already mapped the surface of Venus, just a small amount of areas on the planet’s surface have actually been visited, and all of these were by Soviet probes. It is these probes from the 1970s that have provided us with the only pictures of Venus’s surface.
Because we still know relatively little about Venus, it is hoped that with NASA’s future HAVOC plans, scientists will one day understand a great deal more about this enigmatic planet by probing its upper atmosphere with crewed missions.