There's a lot we can learn about Earth's atmosphere from studying Venus, however, it's Venus' crushingly thick air — precisely what we want to study — that is preventing us from sending manned missions there. But this radical zeppelin could finally help us unlock the secrets of our celestial neighbour.
We've remotely visited Mars nearly two dozen times already, but we've barely scratched the surface of Venus. Technically, we've not actually even seen Venus' surface, much less scratched it, thanks to the planet's incredibly dense atmosphere. Venus is covered by dense clouds of sulphuric acid, its air is mostly carbon dioxide and nitrogen, which have turned Venus into a global greenhouse with a surface temperature hovering around 872 degree F and atmospheric pressure 92 times that of our sea level.
"The vast majority of people, when they hear the idea of going to Venus and exploring, think of the surface, where it's hot enough to melt lead and the pressure is the same as if you were almost a mile underneath the ocean," NASA's Chris Jones told IEEE. "I think that not many people have gone and looked at the relatively much more hospitable atmosphere and how you might tackle operating there for a while."
However, at a height of around 50 km the atmosphere thins and cools to what one would find here on Earth, which is exactly where NASA's High Altitude Venus Operational Concept (HAVOC) would operate. The plan is to first launch a 31-meter robotic airship to perform initial observations and ensure that the secondary, manned mission would have a fair chance of success.
NASA would then follow up with a 30-day 2-manned mission aboard a 130-meter, solar-powered airship with a small cabin slung beneath the helium-filled dirigible. Then, perhaps, a year-long mission and, if everything goes well, eventually a permanent floating outpost like a real life Cloud City. Though, as you can see in the video above, just getting the necessary gear there will be an enormous challenge and, for the manned missions, we'd have to send a pair of spacecraft — the first with the airship, the latter with the crew.
We can't even get our Mars rovers to stop drawing dicks in the sand, and NASA really thinks we're ready to start building floating towns and letting Billy Dee Williams wear a cape again? Man I hope they're right because that's going to be awesome. The capes, I mean.