Has anyone ever reached Venus

Humans could live in airships on Venus

As a target for manned space missions, Venus has always been in the shadow of the moon and Mars. Perhaps that will change, because NASA has a spectacular plan for how humans could explore Venus and eventually colonize it: with airships at an altitude of 50 kilometers.

Life is impossible for humans on the surface of Venus - the temperature is around 500 degrees Celsius. In airships at a height of 50 kilometers, the temperature is 75 degrees Celsius, pressure and attraction are only slightly lower than on earth.

Photo: NASA

For decades, Mars has not been questioned as the next major target for manned space missions. After all, it offers conditions within our solar system that are comparatively similar to those on earth. But now NASA scientists have brought another possibility into play. Before astronauts are sent to Mars, they think it could be exciting to head for and explore a closer, previously neglected destination: Venus.

Conditions on the surface of Venus are extremely hostile

Dale Arney and Chris Jones work at the research center in Langley, Virginia, in the department that analyzes space missions and concepts and examines them for their feasibility. You have dealt extensively with Venus as an exploration target and immediately found a solution to the biggest problem that arises. Venus is closer than Mars and has a lot in common with Earth in terms of size, mass, density and gravity. But the conditions on the surface of Venus are so hostile to life that a visit is practically impossible: The temperature is around 500 degrees Celsius and the atmosphere is 90 times denser than on Earth. That corresponds to the pressure at a depth of 900 meters.

According to NASA, the folded airship could get into the atmosphere of Venus with a braking parachute.

Source: NASA

However, the scientists do not want to go to the surface of Venus, because at a height of 50 kilometers it looks a lot friendlier for people. Pressure and attraction are only slightly less here than on earth and at a comparatively mild 75 degrees Celsius, humans could survive with relatively few technical aids. The higher available solar energy and the protection that its atmosphere offers from radiation from space also speak in favor of Venus. "The radiation that an astronaut would be exposed to on Venus is roughly equivalent to the radiation in Canada," says Dale Arney. On Mars, however, the radiation dose for an unprotected astronaut is around 40 times higher.

Mission to Venus with arrival and departure would take about 440 days

"The upper atmosphere of Venus is probably the most Earth-like environment out there," says Chris Jones. The fact that Venus, depending on where it is in its orbit, comes much closer to Earth is a plus point compared to Mars. The scientists calculate that a visit to Venus could last 440 days: 110 days arrival, 30 days stay, 300 days return journey. In their opinion, a realistic trip to Mars would not be possible in less than 650 to 900 days.

The airship would unfold in the atmosphere of Venus - to a length of 130 meters. The astronauts can then dock with a transfer vehicle.

Source: NASA

For the conquest of Venus, NASA scientists developed the High Altitude Venus Operational Concept (HAVOC) project. For the mission, a robot would first be sent into the atmosphere to investigate the situation. In further steps, astronauts would initially stay in the orbit of Venus for 30 days and finally stay in the atmosphere for 30 days. In the long term, a two-year stay is planned and finally the permanent settlement of the Venusian atmosphere in cloud cities.

Colonization of the atmosphere with helium-filled airships

For this purpose, the scientists have provided a helium-filled, solar-powered airship with a small gondola. The folded vehicle, which later unfolds to a length of 130 meters and floats in the atmosphere, would be sent on the journey to Venus in advance. Then the astronauts follow, who lower themselves from Venus orbit with a transfer vehicle - which they will later bring back - to the airship and dock there.

Even if the scenario sounds a lot like science fiction, the scientists consider their concept realistic and feasible in the near future. Several feasibility studies have already been completed. Apart from the Venus Express mission carried out by ESA, Venus has been neglected since the 1980s, say Arney and Jones. "Venus has its own value as a research target and for colonization, but also as a preparation for a manned mission to Mars." According to the scientists, that would be like a test run for Mars.

A contribution by:

  • Gudrun von Schoenebeck

    Gudrun von Schoenebeck has been a journalist in print and online media since 2001. In addition to architecture, art and design, she has above all opened up the exciting field of space travel.