Scientists say we should prioritize a human mission to Venus before Mars

Mars isn't going anywhere.
Chris Young
Planet Venus stock photo.
Planet Venus stock photo.

buradaki/iStock 

Seeing as Venus has a hellish surface temperature, hot enough to melt lead, you wouldn't think scientists would be clamoring to send humans to the fiery planet.

Then there's the crushing atmospheric pressure and clouds of sulphuric acid in its atmosphere that make its surface utterly uninhabitable.

Still, as per a report by The Guardian, a group of space experts is campaigning to shift the focus away from human exploration of Mars and towards first sending a crewed mission to our nearest neighbor, Venus.

The case for a crewed Venus flyby

The group presented their argument at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Paris last week. They stated that, as Venus is significantly closer to Earth than Mars, a crewed mission to Venus could be completed in a fraction of the time and would provide valuable data for future Mars missions.

A return mission to Venus would be doable in approximately a year, while a mission to Mars and back could take about three years in total.

So a crewed Venus mission would have the benefit of allowing scientists and astronauts to learn more about the effects of prolonged deep space exploration on the human body in a fraction of the time. The downside is that humans wouldn't be able to land on Venus, and they would simply perform a crewed flyby.

However, a flyby would also be very valuable from a scientific perspective, as scientists believe we might find microbial life in the clouds of Venus. Planetary scientists also want to know how a planet that was once thought to have been so similar to Earth became the hellish inferno it is today.

In fact, private space firm Rocket Lab is working on a self-funded project to send a spacecraft to Venus to investigate. It expects to launch its uncrewed mission by next year. If all goes to plan, it will become the first private space company to reach another planet, beating SpaceX to the punch. NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are also working on missions to our nearest neighbor.

'Meeting with the Goddess'

Scientists from the campaign group discussed the benefits of going to Venus at the IAC.

"Venus gets a bad rap because it's got such a difficult surface environment. The current Nasa paradigm is moon-to-Mars. We're trying to make the case for Venus as an additional target on that pathway," said Dr. Noam Izenberg of the Johns Hopkins University applied physics laboratory.

Izenberg added that, though Venus is in the opposite direction to Mars, a crewed flyby of the planet would allow the spacecraft to perform a gravity assist, potentially reducing the travel time to Mars. In that way, a crewed trip to Venus could be incorporated into a mission to the red planet.

The Johns Hopkins University professor did concede that a Venus flyby mission "doesn't yet have traction," though some voices within NASA are starting to join their cause, including NASA chief economist Alexander Macdonald, who led the IAC panel session. In fact, Izenberg and Macdonald just co-authored a piece called "Meeting with the Goddess," which outlines the argument for sending humans to Venus before they touch down on the red planet for the first time to make us an extraplanetary species.

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