Give Venus her flowers

A view of Venus from space, swirled in clouds
Source: JAXA

Whenever Earthlings look to the rest of the solar system–when they write stories about aliens, or they daydream about where they might next send a mission–Mars tends to be the first planet they think of. From C. S. Lewis to Elon Musk, the telescopes are all pointed Marsward. Mars has been the object of dozens of missions, and likely will be the first other planet humans visit.

Which is odd, when you think about it, given Mars isn’t the closest planet to Earth. Venus is. Venus is the brightest object in the sky after the moon; it’s been named both the morning and the evening star. It’s always been my favorite planet, mainly because my brother picked Mars and because Venus is the only planet named for a goddess. But there are actually good reasons to like Venus as well.

It’s a hell planet: hot enough to melt your spacesuit, dense enough to crush it. The clouds are acid and the air is poison. The wind blows a hundred miles an hour, and it rotates so slowly the day is about a year long. It’s not hospitable. But isn’t that part of the appeal? Let other people go for placid, predictable options. Some of us prefer the cranky bois, the high-functioning sociopaths, the prickly people who let nobody in but us. Venus is that. You have to get to know her to even survive her, but once you do that, she’s perfect.

A false-color photo of Venus in fiery colors.
Source: NASA

We could go to Venus in real life, because:

  • It’s over ten million miles closer than Mars–meaning a mission there could be months shorter.
  • Its gravity is close to Earth’s, meaning there is no concern about humans losing bone mass there.
  • The thick atmosphere makes aerobraking much more practical, so you can slow down to make orbit without burning fuel.
  • Because it’s closer to the sun than Mars, solar sails will get more thrust.
  • Sure, the pressure is so high it would crush you and your spaceship in seconds, and it’s hot enough there it can melt lead . . . at the surface. But you don’t have to be on the surface. Thirty miles above the surface, pressure is one Earth atmosphere and the temperature is balmy.
  • You can build floating cities that hover at cloud level without any helium or hot air–oxygen itself is a lifting gas amid the carbon dioxide atmosphere.
  • Mars receives less sunlight than Earth, which means solar panels and dome gardens will be at a disadvantage. Venus, at least above the clouds, receives more!
  • At this level, there is enough atmosphere to shield humans from dangerous solar radiation. You know all the fuss about Mars giving you tons of cancer unless you burrow deep underground? Not an issue on Venus.
  • Venus’s atmosphere includes carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, and sulfur. With that, we can make water, rocket fuel, air to breathe, fertilizer, plastics–pretty well everything we’d need. We won’t need to go down to the inhospitable surface or bring much along.
  • There’s so much more to learn there that we don’t yet know. We have Mars really thoroughly mapped, but we have only the vaguest knowledge of what Venus’s surface even looks like. We don’t know how Venus turned into a hell planet or whether its core is liquid or what its insides are made of.

But even more compelling than the case for why we should go there is the case for why we should write about going there:

  • Since we know so little about Venus, there’s much more room to be creative. The Martian is already dated, a few years after publication, because we’ve learned there are peroxides in the soil that would have killed Mark Watney’s potatoes. (That’s only, like, five on my list of why the potato idea wouldn’t have worked, but there it is.) Venus is likely to remain a mystery for another decade.
  • There might be life on Venus. Or at least, there’s something in the clouds that absorbs light, waxes and wanes with the solar cycle, and could be pretty much anything. There’s no evidence yet to rule out that life exists there. Heck, there could be fish that swim through the atmosphere with oxygen-containing swim bladders and we wouldn’t even know.
  • CLOUD. CITIES. ‘Nuff said.

Now, if you want to write about Venus, it’s going to take some research. First, to ferret out all we know about Venus–a quicker task than doing the same for Mars, but it’ll still take you a while. And then you’ll want to learn about our best guesses so far to how we could survive there. But in return for your trouble, you’ll get to capitalize off a little-known planet–and bring some honor back to Venus, our original sister.

I leave you with this video of HAVOC, a proposed mission to Venus which is entirely possible with technology we have today and just never gets picked. Pretty sure a lot of women who haven’t gotten a promotion they were qualified for can relate.

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