- The High Altitude Venus Operational Concept program would eventually send a manned mission to the atmosphere of Venus
- Around 30 miles above the surface, Venus has temperatures and atmospheric pressure reminiscent of Earth’s
- A robot would first be sent to the Venus’ atmosphere to test the waters — a two-manned vehicle would follow
- The project could one day pave the way toward a floating city above Venus
Josh Gardner for MailOnline
12:31 EST, 21 December 2014
13:51 EST, 21 December 2014
Why weather the bone-chilling rocky surface of Mars when you could call the clouds of Venus’ earth-like upper atmosphere home?
That’s the question posed by a NASA project that envisions a future where humans might live in solar-powered airships 31 miles above Earth’s nearest neighbor.
Dubbed the High Altitude Venus Operational Concept (HAVOC) the project would first send a robotic scout to gauge the lay of the land (or clouds) followed by a 30-day manned mission in a zeppelin-style helium ship.
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A furture in the clouds? A Venus exploration mission envisioned by NASA sees a future in which a permanent human habitat could float in the clouds above Earth’s fiery neighbor
One day, a ‘city’ comprised of multiple space zeppelins would hover above Venus at a sweet spot where temperatures are around 167 degrees, according to IEEE.com.
That may sound hot, but at only 17 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than Earth’s highest recorded temperature it’s downright cozy compared to the -81F chills on the surface of Mars.
That’s at 30 miles above Venus only, of course. Thanks to a greenhouse gas heavy atmosphere, Venus is the hottest planet in the solar system with surface temperatures reaching 863F.
Dale Arney, whose helped dream up the idea with Chris Jones at NASA’s Systems Analysis and Concepts Directorate at Langley Research Center in Virginia, told IEEE:
‘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
Earth-like: The ambitious project would take a spacecraft carrying folded up helium airships (right) to the planet where surface temperatures reach nearly 900F. However, at 31 miles above Venus, scientists say the conditions are far more Earth-like
Easuer than Mars? Scientists at NASA say that in some ways a ‘landing’ in the atmosphere of Venus would be easier than a surface landing on Mars
Nearest neighbor: A manned mission could place two astronauts above he Venusian surface for 30-days after a 110-day trip to Earth’s nearest neighbor
‘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.’
Once implemented, HAVOC would begin with an unmanned mission to Venus in which a 100-foot-long robotic solar-powered helium airship would test the waters, so to speak, in the planet’s atmosphere.
A gondola beneath would contain instruments with which to take measurements of temperature and other factors in preparation for a manned mission.
If given the go-ahead, that manned mission would take two brave souls on a 110-day trip to Venus.
They would spend a month inside a habitat in a gondola below the airship.
At the end of the 30-day mission, the astronauts would ascend back through the atmosphere in a vehicle brought with them for that purpose.
The trip back would take 300 days, putting the astronauts back on Earth after 440 days.
A very optimistic mission to Mars–which is 33.9 million miles from Earth at its closest versus 25 million for Venus–would have astronauts in space a minimum of 500 days for a stay of the same length.
MEN ARE FROM…VENUS? WOULD A MANNED TRIP TO THE PLANET WORK?
‘Traditionally, say if you’re going to Mars, you talk about “entry, descent, and landing,” or EDL,’ said NASA’s Dale Arney. ‘Obviously, in our case, ‘landing’ would represent a significant failure of the mission, so instead we have ‘entry, descent, and inflation,’ or EDI.’
And that’s no easy task.
Inside an ‘aeroshell’ the astronauts would enter Venus’ atmosphere at 4,500 miles per second. The aeroshell would decelerate to 450 meters per second and deploy a parachute.
The shell would then fall away, revealing the airship, which would unfurl and inflate while gently positioning itself at 31 miles above the fiery Venusian surface.
The next step would be a year-long mission to Venus’ atmosphere and then, in the more distant future, a permanent human settlement comprised of a floating city of airships.
Jones says the atmosphere above Venus is ‘probably the most Earth-like environment that’s out there’ and says its protection from the sun’s radiation makes it almost preferable to Mars, which gets 40 times the amount of radiation as Earth.
In the Venus atmosphere, Jones says, you’d be exposed to ‘about the same as if you were in Canada.’
For all the obstacles involved in a plan to get to Venus, stay a while and then return, Jones says it might actually be more practical than a trip to Mars.
‘Venus has value as a destination in and of itself for exploration and colonization,
‘There are things that you would need to do for a Mars mission, but we see a little easier path through Venus.’
Hwo to bet back: At the end of their mission, the astronauts would ascend back into space in an aircraft they brought along for that purpose