Header 1

Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Prospects of Colonizing the Skies of Venus

Ken Kalfus has written a long post called the The Folly of Mars, trying to throw cold water on the idea of exploring and colonizing Mars. But don't worry, space enthusiasts. Even if there are difficulties in colonizing Mars, there is another local possibility: colonizing Venus.

The idea of colonizing Venus may seem crazy to any person familiar with the basic facts about the planet. The surface of the planet is insanely hot (about 735 degrees Kelvin), so hot that it would quickly kill any human who tried to walk on it, even if he had a very good space suit. But there is another possibility. We could colonize the skies of Venus, by creating floating balloon cities there.

In this paper written by a NASA expert, it is proposed that we could create floating colonies about 50 kilometers above the surface of Venus. At this level the atmospheric pressure and gravity is roughly equal to that of Earth. Temperatures are also between 0 and 50 degrees Centrigrade (between 32 degrees and 122 degrees Fahrenheit), similar to temperatures on Earth.

The floating colonies would not be big balloons themselves, but would be suspended by giant balloons that might have an inner-tube structure, as shown in my visual below:

Venus colony

Floating colonists couldn't actually breathe the atmosphere of Venus, which is mainly carbon dioxide. But it would be easy to get oxygen for breathing, by extracting oxygen from the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Such an operation could be easily powered by the abundant solar energy available on Venus, where it's easier to get solar energy.

What kind of life would colonists have in such a colony? The heavy winds on Venus would no doubt cause a frequent rocking of the colony. This would be something of a drawback. It might result in sea-sickness even worse than you would experience on a long sea voyage. Perhaps NASA would first need to develop some kind of super-effective sea-sickness tablet. Or perhaps it could create some type of fancy air-jet stabilization technology that would prevent the suspended colony from rocking too much.

I imagine it might be hard to recruit colonists for such a colony. I can only imagine the recruiting posters that NASA might produce:

Someone becoming a colonist would have to resign himself to living forever in some artificial space habitat, without ever again being able to walk on the surface of a planet. But there might be one cool perk for colonists. NASA could develop shuttle vehicles for transporting cargo between the different floating colonies. Imagine the fun of riding around in such a vehicle, shuttling between different floating Venus colonies. This might be the “hook” that could lure in many a potential thrill seeker.

air car