NASA: All Set for Mars, and Venus is Next

Venus has been the hardest planet in the solar system to effectively explore. The second planet from the sun, approximately the size of Earth, has an upper cloud deck of sulfuric acid which permanently shrouds the Venusian landscape from visual observation.

Venus’ atmosphere below the cloud deck is primarily carbon dioxide. Thus, orbiting space probes such as the Magellan have had to use radar to map the planet’s surface.

Venus’ surface is the equivalent to Hell as depicted in religion. The temperature is roughly 900 degrees Fahrenheit and the atmospheric pressure is 92 times that of Earth. The Russians have managed to land several robotic probes on the surface of Venus, but none have lasted more than a few hours,

According to Wire, NASA is contemplating landing a probe on the Venusian surface that will last 60 days. The probe is called the Long-Lived In-situ Solar System Explorer or LLISSE for short. LLISSE will be specially designed to endure the high temperature and crushing atmosphere of Venus.

LLISSE is a tiny spacecraft, a cube about ten inches on each side. It will be specially hardened with silicone carbide computer chips and sensors. Because of size constraints, LLISSE will likely not take a camera with it. Its sensors will explore both Venus’ atmosphere and its geology. The components are being tested in a chamber that replicates the conditions of the surface of Venus.

The problem of keeping LLISSE powered during its roughly two-month stay on Venus has been daunting. The NASA team that is building and testing the spacecraft has hit upon a heat activated thermal battery which will be designed to last for the 60 days the mission is envisioned to take.

LLISSE is envisioned to be part of the Russian Venera-D mission, the first designed to explore Venus since the fall of the Soviet Union. Venera-D will consist of a larger lander and an orbiter. The lander is designed to last three hours on the surface of Venus. LLISSE would piggyback on a larger, Russian mission.

One problem facing LLISSE is that while it will be ready by 2023, the launch of the Venera-D has been pushed back several times and will now launch no earlier than 2026. The Russian space program is not what it once was, in the days of the space race with the United States.

It has been beset with delays and accidents that have called into question the status of the Russian Federation as a space-faring power. The major activity of Russia in space is being part of the coalition that maintains and operates the International Space Station. NASA, therefore, may have to find another way to get LLISSE to Venus.

Venus is one of the most fascinating planets in the solar system. Before the modern age, the second planet from the sun was thought to be more Earth-like than it turned out to be, perhaps covered with tropical rain forest or a world-girdling ocean.

Indeed, scientists believe that billions of years ago, Venus was more like Earth, with a shallow, salty ocean and, perhaps, life of some sort. However, the theory goes, Venus underwent a runaway greenhouse effect that boiled all of the water away and covered the planet in the stifling atmosphere that exists today. Scientists believe that by studying Venus, we will be better able to understand how a greenhouse effect works, a serious consideration with fears of human-caused climate change.

People are not likely to land on Venus anytime soon. The conditions are just too harsh and the advantage that might be derived by such an expedition not worth the cost of effort. Terraforming Venus, to try to change it into something that more resembles Earth, would also be challenging, according to Universe Today, The process would involve technologies that are not likely to be available for centuries.

On the other hand, people could live for lengthy periods in colonies designed to float above the cloud deck that shrouds Venus where conditions are much more benign than on the surface. People could live and work in such communities in relative comfort. The colonists would-be scientists who would study Venus from the vantage point and, perhaps, eventually set out to terraform the planet, turning Hell into something more livable.