Can Venus be colonized?

In our continuing series on colonization, we bring up a close, yet often maligned planet in regards to the colonization discussion: Our twin sister, Venus.

Venera 12 surface photo taken on Venus

Venera 12 surface photo taken on Venus

Throughout history, scientists have often dreamed of visiting Venus. Once astronomers had the capability of viewing Venus closer than the naked eye via telescopes, many theorized that the planet was a lush paradise, and likely very similar to our very own Earth. Unfortunately, this idea was shattered in the mid to late 20th century, as space programs from the US and Soviet Union launched probes to land on the surface – with many destroyed before touching ground. Astronomers and scientists alike were shocked to learn the planet was the most nightmarish location in our solar system, with little similar to our own planet. The planet sports the hottest surface temperatures in the solar system, as well as an atmosphere that can crush a probe before it lands on the surface – if the winds and sulfuric acid haven’t destroyed it already.

Yet despite the atrocious conditions, Venus may one day be a location to give colonists a great place to be. Recent discoveries may have turned Venus from hell into heaven. Although it gets little fanfare from most sources, it may in fact be an attractive option, once you look past what you usually think about when studying our twin.



Render of a potential city on Venus, high above the acidic clouds. Credit Ralph Ewig

Render of a potential city on Venus, high above the acidic clouds. Credit Ralph Ewig

As stated, the surface of Venus is a nightmare. Temperatures approach 700*F, and the atmosphere can crush many ill-prepared objects with a force that is over 90 times as strong as the pressure we live with on Earth.

Since Venus has an incredible abundance of atmosphere, it leads to the question of what the sky is like on Venus. Although its composition is significantly different than Earth, it features a “Safe Zone” that is remarkably hospitable for life. Approximately 50 kilometers above the surface of the planet, the atmospheric pressure is very similar to what we live with on Earth.

Not only is the atmospheric pressure similar (something no other planet, sans the giants offer) to ours, so is the temperature. At this height, temperatures feature a very comfortable 32*F to 122*F – temperatures you may experience on Earth.



If a colony was indeed in the sky, how would it “Float”? Although floating cities have been a concept in fantasy novels and movies for a long time, Venus may be able to make it a reality. On Earth, we know of two primary lifting gasses – Helium and Hydrogen. We use these, because they are “Lighter than air”. Because of Venus’ significantly different atmosphere, lifting gasses are much different. In fact, the very air we breathe – Nitrogen and Oxygen are “Lighter than air” on Venus! This is very important, as any livable area would essentially be lighter than than the atmosphere outside. This also means that our lifting gasses – Hydrogen and Helium, are vastly more effective on Venus. For example, a standard weather balloon on Venus could hold nearly 5 pounds of weight – approximately 1.5 times as much weight as on Earth.



One paramount question has gone unanswered in regards to space: Can we have children outside of Earth? Although to some, it may seem a strange question, it has a very important practical purpose. No one knows if fetuses develop properly in low-gravy or zero-gravity environments. Astronauts that stay in space for extended periods of time have to exercise rigorously, or else face major problems with bone and muscle loss.

If researchers do find out that children cannot be viably birthed in low-gravity environments, then many locations would have to be staffed by people born elsewhere. This makes the gravity of Venus very attractive: It is a very comfy 0.9G, or 9/10ths of Earth’s gravity. Its very unlikely that such a small difference would effect birth, even if lower gravity environments (such as the Moon or Mars) do.



But why go to Venus, if not for babies? Venus has a few additional attractive benefits that make it a viable candidate:

  • Aside from the Earth, it is the easiest location to travel, both in time as well as cost of fuel. We find that it requires the following velocities to get to these locations in the Solar System. Venus is “Cheaper” due to its atmosphere allowing for any craft to use aerobreaking, rather than fuel (which is required for a trip to the Moon or Mars).
    • Low Earth Orbit: 9.3 – 10
    • Lunar Landing – 16.4
    • Mars Landing – 19.0 – 20.2
    • Venus “Landing” – 18.0 – 20.2
  • The “launch window” of sending spacecraft to or from Venus is 25% shorter than Mars (584 days to 780 days).
  • Solar energy in the cloud tops of Venus is abundant – solar panels pointed towards the planet would be nearly as efficient as pointed towards the sun (and much more efficient than on the moon or Mars)



Venus is not without its challenges. As many know, the atmosphere and temperature are major issues which make landing on the surface of the planet extremely difficult. However, to grow any theoretical colony, resources have to be obtained on Venus, rather than imported constantly from Earth. The Soviets managed to land multiple probes on the surface of Venus, which has proved that it is possible to make it to the surface, though.

 (Actual picture of the surface of Venus from the Venera 14 probe. Landed March 5th, 1982. It survived for 57 minutes – nearly twice as long as planned)
The other drawback is water. Venus lacks any form of water due to both temperature and atmosphere. This may prove difficult for colonizers. However, some water vapor has been discovered by the Venus Express, which may lead to ways in which water could be extracted from the atmosphere, or through other means.
Despite the difficulties, Venus may become an attractive option for exploration as the century goes along. Although its rarely talked about, it may be one of the easiest places for astronauts to “land” on – or at least get into the temperate zone of the planet’s atmosphere.