Sunday, April 12, 2015

Don't Forget About Venus

If you're familiar with astronomy you'll know Earth is the third planet from the sun. Mars is the fourth planet from the sun, and quite a bit cooler. The Mars equator is fairly warm though - at about 80F during the day, and the gravity isn't half bad - or to be more exact about 1/3rd of ours-so putting a few brave astronauts on its surface in a few years seems like a plausible idea. The carbon dioxide atmosphere isn't breathable and you'd need a decent pressure suit, but it's doable. Maybe we could use one of those fantastic tight fitting suits being made by Dava Newman, but for now Mars is a healthy obsession for science fiction writers and scientists alike for ideas with colonization, or human exploration. What's also really interesting is finding an new unexpected discovery, and her name is Venus.
Venus, the second planet from the sun is much like our planet. Also known as our sister planet she is about the same size and almost exactly the same gravity, but she is a neighbor I think most people have forgotten about, but sometimes she will remind you. She will be the brightest point among the stars at times. With Venus you only have to look left instead of right. So what if we also looked in a different direction?
Discovering Venus and making some connections became an inspiration for my fourth story I'm calling "Modified". It might seem a little surprising to some, but the creative process for me is usually a sequence of events that unfolds like tiny connections. So I'll give you the dots. At first, it had to do with helping my son do his homework one night. Originally published in 1954, his assignment was reading a science fiction story by Ray Bradbury called "All Summer In A Day."  Ray Bradbury wrote the Martian Chronicles and has been called one of the world's greatest science fiction writers of all time. But what's most important about this story in my case was "All Summer In A Day" is all about a colony on Venus. Oh right. No wait, I mean left! That other planet, the hellish hot one. Hold on...Venus?
My curiosity was peeked after we read the story, so I looked up the words Venus and colony on the internet. And here is where science fiction and science just seems to blur at times. Turns out a U.S. scientist named Geoffrey Landis, of the Nasa Glenn Research Center, has confirmed that human exploration of Venus could take place from aerostat vehicles in the atmosphere and long term permanent settlements could be made in the form of cities, designed to float around the planet. According to his research, a one-kilometer diameter gas filled spherical envelope could lift 700,00 tons. (two Empire State Buildings), and  a two-kilometer diameter envelope would lift 6 million tons, the size of a modest city. Although the surface of Venus is an extremely hostile environment, at about 50 kilometers above the planet's surface, he says the atmosphere has an earth like environment. There are a few pitfalls listed however, and lets not forget Venus is not called the hell planet for nothing. A poisonous atmosphere made up of mostly carbon dioxide with sulfuric acid rain droplets in the clouds for one thing, for which we could wear protective clothing for, but for another, oxygen would have to be shipped in, which is mostly absent from the Venusian atmosphere. However, in other respects, Landis says the environment is perfect for humans. At cloud-top level, Venus seems to be the paradise planet, with abundant solar energy.
This is just too much good stuff for a science fiction writer, because we hardly need more to picture the rest. We have been given desert before the main course, and reading further about Venus intensifies ideas, and ignites the imagination. The facts however remain the facts, and besides a multitude of other scientists like Paul Birch, or meteorologist Paul Crutzen, who long ago researched the idea of terraforming Venus, as early as 1970 we actually landed there. The Russians were the first to send several sophisticated unmanned landers to its surface, like the Venera-9, but surface temperatures  and massive atmospheric pressures crushed and melted them like tin cans in about two hours. The good news is, these incredible machines still managed to send back pictures and study the soil before they expired, and you can find them posted right online.
In any case, in just under two hours these machines gave us all we needed. Given the stories, the research, and the landings, lets not forget the possibilities. I'm certainly not.