NASA is floating the idea of a permanent human city above the surface of Venus using blimps so astronauts can study one of the most hostile environments in the solar system.
Called HAVOC – High Altitude Venus Operational Concept — engineers and scientists at the space agency have been studying ways in which a Venus mission would be possible.
“The atmosphere of Venus is an exciting destination for both further scientific study and future human exploration,” aerospace engineer Christopher A. Jones told CNN.
Venus is the closest planet to Earth, about 38 million kilometres, compared with 54.6 million km to Mars. However, it is also highly inhospitable with a mean temperature of 462 degrees Celsius, a cloud layer of sulphuric acid and atmospheric pressure that’s 92 times greater than Earth’s.
Scientists say, however, that just 50 kilometres above the cloud layer are conditions that mimic Earth – pressure is almost the same and so is the gravity and the temperature is about 75 C. With current technology, the astronauts could be outfitted in special suits to withstand the heat.
In previous years, probes have been sent to the surface of Venus, but could only last about two hours.
A short mission to Venus would last 30 days, according to NASA researchers. However, they do envision a longer stay in which there could be a permanent human presence above Venus.
The study proposes a kind of "aeroshell" that would send the astronauts to the planet. During the deceleration, a parachute would deploy, with the aeroshell falling away, to unveil an airship.
In order to study the surface, the astronauts should head outside in a giant open metal basket suspended beneath the airships.
While the actualization of the concept is decades away, NASA scientists say they do hope it comes to fruition.
“[It] would allow us to gain experience having humans live in another world,” said Jones.