Sunday, August 8, 2010

Humans Will Live on Venus

Last week I attended the 13th Annual Mars Society Convention. I was enormously impressed by the quality of the papers that were presented there. One paper in particular stood out, even though it was not even about Mars at all. Rather, it was entitled "The Case for Venus" by Geoffrey Landis of NASA Glenn.
At first glance, this would seem to be a stupid, stupid idea, right? After all, the temperature on the surface of the planet is around 450 Celsius, and the atmospheric pressure is equivalent to that experienced a mile under the ocean on earth (i.e., similar to the Deepwater Horizon). The atmosphere is mainly carbon dioxide, with a generous helping of sulfuric acid. In other words, it is the embodiment of Hell!
But wait! What if, instead of being fixated on living on the ground, you were content to live in a Zeppelin, high above the clouds? It turns out that, like the earth, Venus is much cooler at hegher altitudes, and the pressure is lower as well. So if you choose to float at 55 kilometers above the surface of Venus, the atmospheric temperature and pressure are quite a bit like earth's. It may be a very very habitable location!
Plus if you want to fill your balloon with a mixture of nitrogen and oxygen, like Earth's atmosphere, it is significantly more buoyant than, say, a hot air balloon on earth.
You could imagine a small city suspended above the clouds of Venus someday.
Another thing that struck me, with the high altitude, you are really at orbital altitudes, but with an atmosphere. You would not have to have a blazing re-entry to the atmoshpere like you do on earth. Rather, if my understanding of orbital mechanics is correct, you would just establish a low orbit, which would decay due to atmospheric drag. Then you would deploy your Zeppelin or inflatable balloons of your choice, and gradually slow from orbital velocity to wind velocity.
Inside your balloon, you can raise food crops in order to produce oxxygen, and carry out life in a relatively normal way. Solar power would be readily available, since Venus is closer to the sun than the earth, and the atmosphere would protect us from radiation, as it does on earth.
I thought about the floating city of Laputa imagined by Jonathan Swift in Gulliver's travels (and later re-imagined in a beautiful anime cartoon by Studio Ghibli). Laputa, the floating city in the sky, will one day exist on Venus.
I'm certain of it!

1 comment:

  1. If we can avoid blowing up this planet, it would be so fantastic to develop colonies on other planets. The idea that the sky might be more fun to live in than the surface had never occurred to me!