You could soon take a gap year on Venus

23rd Dec 2014
Written by: Dave Owen

Scientists are planning an airship city in the planet's atmosphere

There are very few places left on Earth untouched by intrepid travellers – so why not venture further afield? If NASA gets its way it might soon be possible to embark on an extraterrestrial jaunt to the planet Venus.

It's Mars that usually hogs the solar system limelight, but Venus might actually be a better suitor as humanity's debut space colony. Well, sort of. It's roughly the same size as Earth and shares similar density and chemical composition. The only hitch is that it's deadlier than a bag of snakes wearing knuckle dusters as pugilistic tiaras.

It's a bit toasty, for a start, at around 462 degrees Celsius, and its atmospheric pressure is a hefty 92 times greater than Earth's. That's not to mention its titantic volcanoes and clouds full of sulphuric acid. It's basically a big ball of unbearable agony, the planetary equivalent of Disney World's Epcot Centre. 

So why the heck Venus?

Those clever scientists at NASA have worked out that if humans stayed around 30 miles above the planet the conditions could be kept altogether similar to those on Earth. Gravity would be a bit weaker, and it would be warm, but a ship could be designed to prevent terrible pain, screaming, and sudden combustion.

The proposal is a city in the clouds around Venus that, at first, would carry two astronauts to study the planet. The project is called High Altitude Venus Operational Concept, or, perhaps not encouragingly, HAVOC. The idea is acidic pie in the sky at the moment, as scientists still face the challenge of how to get the airship to Venus in the first place, inflate it, and how to make sure it doesn't melt like a chocolate croissant in the microwave.

So it might be a while before you're booking your flight. But if scientists can pull this off, it could prove to be a major step toward a viable tourist route in space.

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