U.S. space agency NASA has had its eye on Mars for many years as the general consensus has long been that it would be the easiest planet to explore given it’s size and climate. Venus, which is actually closer to Earth, has been thought to be too difficult to explore because of the high temperatures and pressures on the surface of the planet.

NASA Looking At Venus Airship HAVOC To Explore Closest Planet

Two NASA researchers, Dale Arney and Chris Jones, say a manned mission to the atmosphere of Venus would be an ideal “warm up” to a mission to the Red Planet, and could be accomplished using an airship about half the size of the Goodyear blimp.

Details on the HAVOC Venus airship plan

According to Arney and Jones, there are a number of good reasons to consider an expedition to the atmosphere of Venus. Fifty km above Venus’ surface, the gravity is close to that of Earth’s, and the atmospheric pressure is practically the same. Venus is better shielded from radiation than Mars. In fact, exposure to radiation in Venus’ atmosphere would be “about the same as if you were in Canada,” Arney explained in an interview with IEEE Spectrum.

The idea is to explore the atmosphere of Venus in a helium-filled airship that runs on solar power. The first stage of the mission involves sending a robotic spacecraft and airship, then follow up with a manned version. Of note, the airship would to be folded up inside a spacecraft on the trip, with humans likely coming along in a separate vehicle. Arney and Jones even sketched out a long-term plan including a colony floating in the clouds.

NASA manned Venus mission is perfect warm up for Mars mission

The NASA researchers say the mission to Venus is attractive because the green planet is closer, and the mission would provide experience with technology that would be necessary to get humans to Mars. The mission would provide knowledge about habitats for crew members, carbon dioxide processing, aerobraking and many other issues involved in humans surviving a trip to another planet. “If you did Venus first, you could get a leg up on advancing those technologies and those capabilities ahead of doing a human-scale Mars mission,” Jones commented to IEEE Spectrum. “It’s a chance to do a practice run, if you will, of going to Mars.