Target Venus, not Mars for first crewed mission to another planet, experts say | Venus


With a surface hot enough to melt lead, crushing atmospheric pressure and clouds of sulfuric acid, Venus might not seem like the most appealing destination for human exploration.

But a group of experts advocates that our other nearest neighbor, rather than Mars, should be the initial target for a crewed mission to another planet.

There are notable downsides. Walking on the surface would be an insurmountable experience, so astronauts would have to look down on the planet from the safety of their spacecraft on a flyby mission.

In its favor, however, Venus is significantly closer, making a return mission feasible in a year, compared to a potentially three-year round trip to Mars. A flyby would be scientifically valuable and could provide crucial experience of a long deep-space mission as a precursor to visiting Mars, according to a report presented to the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Paris last week.

“Venus has a bad reputation because it has such a harsh surface environment,” said Dr. Noam Izenberg of Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory and one of the Venus flyby proponents.

“Nasa’s current paradigm is moon to Mars. We are trying to push Venus as an additional target on this path,” he said.

Izenberg said there are practical arguments for incorporating a Venus flyby into the crewed landing on Mars that Nasa hopes to achieve by the late 2030s. Although the planet is headed in the “wrong” direction , performing a slingshot around Venus – known as gravity assist – could reduce the travel time and fuel needed to get to the Red Planet. That would make a crewed flyby to Venus a natural stepping stone to NASA’s ultimate goal.

“You’ll learn how people work in deep space, without committing to a full Mars mission,” he said. “And it’s not just going out in the middle of nowhere – it would have a bit of cachet because you’d be visiting another planet for the first time.”

“We have to figure out how we can get out of the cradle and into the universe,” he added.

There is also a resurgence of scientific interest in Venus. The discovery of thousands of exoplanets raises the question of how many could be habitable, and scientists want to understand how and why Venus, a planet so similar to ours in size, mass and distance from the sun, ended up with conditions of infernal surfaces.

Izenberg said a Venus flyby “yet doesn’t have traction” in the wider space travel community, though there are advocates within NASA, including its chief economist, Alexander Macdonald, who led the IAC session.

The couple recently co-wrote a report titled Encounter with the Goddess which makes the case for the hypothetical mission, suggesting that astronauts could deploy teleoperated rovers, drones and balloons to observe active volcanoes on Venus and search for signs of past water and old life. .

“There is every reason to believe that Venus will be an endless wonderland of alluring and mysterious landscapes and formations,” the report said.

However, not everyone is sold on the concept. “It’s really not a good place to go. It’s a hellish environment and the thermal challenges for a human mission would be quite considerable,” said Professor Andrew Coates, space scientist at UCL’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory.

He said that Venus was rightly a center of scientific exploration, but “a human flyby really wouldn’t add much.”


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