I know that heat & pressure made short work of previous Venus landers. Do we have the technology/engineering skills to overcome these obstacles?
There has been at least one proposal (it would use a very tough but “dumb” rover on the surface, in communications with and controlled by a robot aircraft in the relatively hospitable upper atmosphere.)
Note that this was still in kind of a “pie in the sky” phase. That proposal wasn’t just some random crackpot with a web page, but on the other hand it was over seven years ago, and as far as I know there has been no movement since then (by NASA or anyone else, not even the Russians, who are the masters of Venusian surface exploration) for actually making anything like that any kind of reality.
(Just to put things in a little perspective, some of the landers from the Soviet Venera program survived on the surface for as long as two hours. This was–and I mean this with absolutely sincere admiration and no snark at all–one of the great engineering achievements of Soviet deep space exploration. The surface of Venus is just a total hellhole.)
Thanks for your response. To hijack my own thread, what is the current thought on Venus’s past? Was it ever Earth-like? If so, what happened to bring it to its present state?
The wiki articleis a good place to start. It says that Venus was once more Earth-like than it is now, billions of year ago. The wiki says life may have once existed on the planet, and the possibility of life existing in the middle atmosphere can’t be excluded.
Venus may have been kinda sort somewhat earth-like in the respect that the same processes that formed water on Earth should have formed water on Venus. That’s about as much Earth-type stuff as you get though.
The surface of Venus shows no traces of water, and no traces that water has ever been present. Oddly, though, the entire surface of Venus isn’t that old (compared to the age of the Solar System). One of the theories I’ve read is that Venus has a problem with its crust not having plate tectonics like the Earth. Instead of allowing heat to vent out from the interior the way it does on Earth, the heat inside Venus just builds up and builds up until the entire surface melts, releasing the heat. Then the surface cools down and the whole thing starts over.
Whatever water was there (from formation similar to Earth) boiled off a long time ago.
There is some evidence that some of the rock on Venus may be granite, which requires vulcanism and water to form. This may indicate that at one time, however briefly, Venus did have plate tectonics and water. That’s kinda Earth-like, I suppose. I don’t know that I would ever say Venus was truly Earth-like though.
There is speculation that there may have been life of some sort, but I’ve never read anything that indicates there’s any real evidence that they’ve found for it yet. It’s mostly just wild speculation at this point.
(Not my field of expertise, btw, just have an amateur interest in this stuff and have read a bit about it)
Will the atmosphere allow for radio broadcast?
Carson Napier is going to be very disappointed.
Yes – Venera 7 and subsequent Russian probes were able briefly to broadcast from the Venusian surface. In the early 1990s, the American Magellan probe was also able to broadcast from within Venus’s atmosphere.
I don’t see why it wouldn’t be possible, if price wasn’t an object. We are talking about pressures about 90+ times atmospheric pressure on Earth at sea level. When we send stuff to various deep places in the ocean we deal with higher pressures. Temperature wise we are looking at something on the order of 900F…that’s pretty damned hot, but with modern materials I’d think it’s do-able (depending on how long you wanted the thing to last…it’s not going to be like the Mars rovers, lasting for months or years).
The constraints would be cost and weight, not engineering. The Soviets managed to land something that lasted for a bit longer than an hour (they had some that lasted a lot less too, and some that lasted a touch longer) in the 60’s and early 70’s, so I’d think we could do a bit better than that today with modern materials.
Don’t forget that, in addition to the pressure and temperature, it’s also chemically inhospitable: The atmosphere is extremely corrosive. The majority of materials can’t withstand temperatures that high, and the majority of materials can’t withstand sulfuric acid, so the set of materials that can survive both at once is a pretty small slice. And now consider that we’re not just trying to make a brick that can do that, but something with working parts of some sort: Control electronics, telemetry, instruments, wheels or something equivalent, motors to move those moving parts, some sort of power supplies, etc. And to make a rover worthwhile, the thing’s got to be able to last not for hours, but for weeks: Most folks don’t realize just how slow the various Mars rovers are, and if you’re not moving for weeks or longer, you might as well not be moving at all.
I’m trying to remember where I read something. It was probably an essay by Asimov. One of the Venus probes needed a small window, possibly to allow pictures to be taken, but maybe just to analyze the light. In order to do that, they had to use a diamond. The acid in the atmosphere would have etched glass into impenetrability too soon to be useful.
When you’re choosing materials and have to settle on diamond in order to get access to a little light, you’re not talking about a cheap probe.
So I’m supposing a manned mission to the Venus surface by 2030 is just right out then?
Reading through Greg Goebel’s excellent essay on Venus exploration it seems that - oddly enough - one of the biggest problems facing the Soviets was lens caps:
*"Venera 9 was supposed to return panoramic pictures, but the lens cap wasn’t released from one of the two cameras. The photographs returned by the lander revealed that light levels were comparable to those on Earth on a cloudy summer day, and images of rocks showed few effects of erosion.
The Venera 10 lander touched down on 25 October 1975 and returned data for 65 minutes. It also failed to release one of its lens caps.
Venera 12 was launched on 14 September 1978, with its lander touched down on 21 December, returning data for 110 minutes. However, the data from both probes was very limited, the landers apparently having sprung a leak during their descent, and neither was able to discard the lens caps on the cameras.
Venera 13 was launched on 30 October 1981 and its lander touched down on 1 March 1982, to return data for 127 minutes. Venera 14 was launched on 4 November 1981 and touched down on 5 March 1982, returning data for 57 minutes. Both landers returned color panoramic photographs. Ironically, although the lens caps came off with no trouble this time, the cap from Venera 14 fell by chance directly under a surface-measurement probe and blocked its operation."*
I remember reading speculative plans to seed the atmosphere with microbes that would slowly convert the poison air into something breathable; raises the ethical question of whether we should tamper with Venus, but then again it’s a thoroughly dead wasteland, and I surmise that it would be easier for humanity to live long-term on a terraformed Venus than a terraformed Mars (by then we will have hopefully had global warming licked, but Mars is always going to lose its atmosphere because it’s so small, besides which it’s cold).
Incidentally I remember the Venera images being odd to look at, because they were stretched panoramas - turns out some chap’s unstretched them, which makes Venus look like a Dr Who quarry:
If we sent a few big asteroids into orbit around Venus would they strip off a significant amount of the CO2 atmosphere?
big? would have to be gigantic. the cost and time of moving them would be absurdly high. not even sure we have the technology to actually move a small asteroid, let alone a huge one. All the talk about moving asteroids is about moving tiny asteroids which are already in earth-crossing orbits.
If we actually moved one even close to size needed, it would be more profitable to move said asteroid closer to earth orbit or into earth orbit.
toss in the fact the venus’ atmosphere is 90+ times the mass of earth’s atmosphere, the time/mass needed to reduce the atmosphere to more human levels is, well, crazy.
There is an excellent 8-part BBC series named The Planets that details the history of the exploration of the planets. The Russian interviews concerning Venus were pretty amusing. Regarding Venera 14, there was an arm that was supposed to reach down to the ground to analyze the soil. The way they put it, after all the time, money and effort they put into getting the arm to work right, it finally made it to Venus and… sent back an analysis of the lens cap.
When they were first designing probes for Venus, they made a test unit with overkill in mind and put it in a large pressure chamber to test it. When they opened the door, the damn thing was gone! It may have been hyperbole but according to them, it had completely disintegrated.
When one probe landed on Venus, it landed in something soft, kind of like mud instead of solid ground. One of the guys in charge gathered all the engineers and said “The probe has landed in a soft, viscous material, any ideas what it’s in?” Someone in the back of the room shouted “It’s in the shit!”
At least the rover wouldn’t have to use that Rube-Goldberg-esque skycrane system to land. With such a dense atmosphere, simple parachutes would probably work just fine.
You might not even need those. The Russian Venera probes used parachutes to decelerate, but jettisoned them well before touchdown. Venus’s atmosphere is so thick that the terminal velocity of the probes without parachutes was still low enough for them to survive landing.