Welcome to Cloud City: The case for going to Venus, not Marsdata-page-subject=true

If we went to Venus first instead of Mars, what would that look like?

7/5/2020 4:13:00 AM

If we went to Venus first instead of Mars, what would that look like?

A growing group of scientists want to float above our sister planet before we conquer the red one.data-page-subject=true

would also focus on the surface, finally giving us better maps of our sister planet than we have of Pluto.Which is nice and all, but these two missions were finalists for the last Discovery program too, and didn’t get picked then. You can forgive the Venus community for feeling like Charlie Brown, with NASA playing Lucy holding the football. (I hope Peanuts references have survived in your era.) They’re also frustrated that NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine hasn’t yet committed to swinging by Venus on the agency’s crewed Mars trip.

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“Flying by Venus on the way to Mars minimizes delta-V, using less fuel and making the trip shorter,” planetary scientist Noam Izenberg points out. And if they’re swinging by the planet anyway, he adds, you might as well drop a couple of drone probes that the astronauts can control in real time, picking up samples: “This is value-added science you can’t do by remote probes alone.”

Not even this swing-by plan is as bold as HAVOC, the NASA crewed mission concept from Obama’s last term (which came with a nifty video, above). The five-phase proposal makes for fascinating reading: We send a robot balloon; we send a crew to orbit for 30 days; we send a crew to the 31-mile cloud layer for 30 days; we establish a permanent balloon-based habitat. I’d love to provide some quotes for posterity from the HAVOC scientists, but NASA, solicitous in many other areas, never responded to my request to speak to them.

Which leaves us with only Venus’ old friends, the science fiction writers, to imagine what that permanent habitat might look like in your century. Theof James S.A. Corey’sExpanseseries, the basis for the popular TV show, mentions a legal firm that had been involved in the “epic failure of the Venusian cloud cities” which led to a “decades-long lawsuit.” No further details are offered — and no spoilers, but this is a setup for the book’s ending, which requires that Venus be uninhabited.

The thought of cloud cities supported by balloons gives some Venus scientists the heebie-jeebies. What if they got a puncture? “The consequences of that city losing altitude would be severe,” says Stephen Kane, a planetary scientist at the University of California Riverside, who is excited about more uncrewed Venus missions that will help us understand exoplanets, but something of a HAVOC skeptic. “Would you want to build your house over a pit of sulfuric acid?”

Still, balloons would be cheap to send, and there’s nothing to stop regular resupply missions from Earth. You could provide hundreds of backup balloons as easily as we backup our data. And there would be plenty of time to transfer from one to another. “If there is a break, the gas equilibrates though the gap very slowly,” explains one character in

The Sultan of the Clouds, the story by NASA engineer Landis. “Even if we had a thousand broken panels, it would take weeks for the city to sink to the irrecoverable depths.” (This is accurate so far as we know without actually testing it; it’s a case where all that air pressure on Venus is actually helpful.) In this forgiving environment, Landis imagines “cities of helical buildings and golden domes, with huge open areas and elaborate gardens” inside his vast and sturdy balloon structures.

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it would be impossible due to our primitive technology. the pressure on Venus is enough to crush a submarine.... Mars on the other hand pressure is very similar to ours. Lando, are you there? Extraterrestrial quarantine. Too much acidic rain. Interesting....

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Welcome to Cloud City: The case for going to Venus, not Marsdata-page-subject=trueA growing group of scientists want to float above our sister planet before we conquer the red one.data-page-subject=true Did the protomolecule write this

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