Space

NASA concept would send astronauts to Venus

Engineers see potential for a permanent presence above Venus (Image credit: NASA)
Engineers see potential for a permanent presence above Venus (Image credit: NASA)
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An inflatable airship would deploy in the upper atmosphere of Venus (Image credit: NASA)
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An inflatable airship would deploy in the upper atmosphere of Venus (Image credit: NASA)
Engineers see potential for a permanent presence above Venus (Image credit: NASA)
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Engineers see potential for a permanent presence above Venus (Image credit: NASA)
The uninflated airship descends from a rendezvous point in orbit (Image credit: NASA)
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The uninflated airship descends from a rendezvous point in orbit (Image credit: NASA)
An inflatable airship would deploy in the upper atmosphere of Venus (Image credit: NASA)
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An inflatable airship would deploy in the upper atmosphere of Venus (Image credit: NASA)

For decades, landing on Mars has captivated the imagination of earthlings as the obvious next step in space exploration after landing on the moon, but NASA is also looking into ways to send a manned mission to a more forbidding neighbor – Venus.

Researchers at NASA's Langley facility have developed the High Altitude Venus Operational Concept (HAVOC) as a possible means of exploring Earth's nearest planetary neighbor. HAVOC involves sending what is essentially a blimp and two astronauts on a month-long mission to float around the planet's atmosphere.

Exploring Venus is difficult because of the sulfuric acid in its atmosphere, extremely hot surface temperatures that can melt lead (or a European orbiter) and crushing air pressure on the ground as well. Piloting an inflatable vehicle not only avoids all these perilous obstacles, it also makes for a relatively simple way to explore a neighboring planet without the expense and hassle of managing a descent, landing, take-off and ascent.

According to engineers that worked on the HAVOC concept, the astronauts would live and work in a floating habitat attached to the blimp-like vehicle, which would likely be filled with helium to keep it aloft. The engineers figure that in the Venusian atmosphere, the vehicle would be able to keep itself aloft at a target altitude of 50 kilometers.

The HAVOC team claims that Venus is an even better environment for airships than Earth, thanks to its heavy atmosphere.

The mission wouldn't involve piloting a space "zeppelin" of sorts all the way from Earth to Venus, of course. Exploration of the second planet from the sun would likely begin with unmanned missions to the atmosphere of Venus to test technologies and study the atmosphere before sending humans.

An inflatable airship would deploy in the upper atmosphere of Venus (Image credit: NASA)
An inflatable airship would deploy in the upper atmosphere of Venus (Image credit: NASA)

A craft carrying a manned crew would then be sent to rendezvous with an existing craft orbiting Venus. One of the craft would then descend into the planet's atmosphere, deploying and inflating the airship at the proper altitude. The HAVOC team envisions potential human settlements "anchored" in the atmosphere of Venus as a planetary base of sorts, not unlike the International Space Station or even a more permanent colony.

At the moment, no manned missions to Venus are planned by NASA. The HAVOC concept was devised by the agency's Systems Analysis and Concepts Directorate, which conducts such studies "for the Agency decision makers." Nonetheless, it's interesting to note that manned missions to Venus are at least on the table, but it will take quite a sales job to convince those decision makers, legislators and the Americans that elect them that Venus is a more enticing option for an upcoming manned mission than Mars.

For more on HAVOC, watch the concept video below.

Source: NASA

A way to explore Venus

11 comments
Adam Dixon
Sounds great, perhaps an unmanned Venus action first though!
DemonDuck
I'm pretty sure that the sky on Venus is not blue.
coryatjohn
This type of mission would not benefit much from a human presence. Why subject humans to the risks of such a flight when a robot powered craft would be much more efficient, not risk humans and would be expendable after the mission was completed. If humans are on board, they probably would want to come home. That would make the mission much more complicated and expensive. Give it a go with a robot probe. What's to gain by using humans?
Derek Howe
Seems pretty cool, But I'd rather focus more of our effort (and dollars) on our moon & Mars.
Rehab
Venus will offer so much more than Mars. We can practice cleaning it up for humans as one day we will our own earth!
William H Lanteigne
Venus is both a planet and the Roman goddess of love and sex. Adjectival forms therefore have two separate uses: for the planet, and in medicine to describe things like sexually transmitted diseases. "Venusian" is by far the most common adjective in use for the planet among professional astronomers. Some classically minded writers dislike "Venusian" because it doesn't resemble Latin forms such as "Veneri." "Venerian" was used by some 20th-century science fiction writers such as Robert Heinlein and Jown W. Campbell, Jr. It also appears to have been used sometimes as an adjectival form of Venice (George Finlay, History of Greece Under Othoman & Venerian Domination). "Cytherean" is sometimes used, referring to the island Cythera, near which the goddess was supposed to be have been born. A search of astronomy papers on arxiv.org, however, shows that "Venusian" is nearly universal. In medicine, the most common term is "venereal," which is closer to being a legitimate Latin form than "venusian." There are also "veneric" and "venerean."
inchiki
it makes sense to go to venus as it is pretty damn close. All that scary acid can't be much worse than the hard vacuum of space.
Slowburn
Mars and the moon offer resources. What do they want to do in Venus's upper atmosphere other than spend money?
Stephen N Russell
Need a mega Zepplien to be base ship for Venus Mission, then to decend in a shuttle module to said Mother Zepplen from Orbiter support craft would be Ideal. Base Zep can remain after mission or decend & be destroyed by atmos alone. Love the idea & Id be awesome. Mothership would be housed in mega HLLV or made in Orbit for Venus shot alone.
Gary Richardson
A donut shaped blimp with landing and launching from it's center seems like a better design for reusability than having a carriage underneath.
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