A New Home

A growing number of scientists and astronomers are looking at the very real possibility of building colonies and settlements on other planets. Once firmly in the realm of science fiction, now even NASA is exploring how to make a Mars mission for the long term.

But other than the red planet, one very likely candidate for human colonization would be Venus, Earth's sister planet. Closer to home than all others, Venus offers many benefits to prospective colonizers. So what would it take to make Venus cozy enough for humans?

Before getting to that, we need to discuss what makes Venus a prime planet for colonization. Other than the proximity to us, Venus mimics many of Earth's qualities. It is similar in size, and has a comparable gravity to Earth's. Flight windows to Venus also occur much more frequently than for other planets.


Artist’s impression of Venus’ thick atmosphere, complete with lighting strikes and sulfuric acid rains. Credit: ESA

So what would it take? For starters, the biggest problem with Venus is its atmosphere, which is 90 times that of Earth. It is blanketed by clouds of toxic sulfur  carbon dioxide, and the surface temperature can actually melt lead.

So how do you change those conditions? Conventional ideas call for ways to reflect sunlight, preventing it from reaching the surface. This would require massive solar shades, suspended in space, or massive solar reflective sheets suspended in the surface or in the atmosphere.

More unique ideas call for seeding the atmosphere with chemicals that would change its make-up, reducing the thickness. A prime candidate is hydrogen, reacting with the carbon dioxide to form water. Seeding sulfur dioxide could also cool Venus down some, according to Nobel prize-winner Paul Crutzen.

Meanwhile, humans can chill in floating balloon cities, made of reflective surfaces, that would serve as settlements while the terraforming is going on.

Artist’s concept of a Venus cloud city – part of NASA’s High Altitude Venus Operational Concept (HAVOC) plan. Credit: Advanced Concepts Lab/NASA Langley Research Center

Other ideas include space engines that suck the atmosphere and deposit it in space, dropping asteroids to remove some of the clouds and speed up Venus' rotation, and mass drivers and engines that would also speed up the rotation.

Overall, the benefits of terraforming Venus are clear. Getting to this point, though, is the challenge. It's clear that this logistical nightmare won't be solved anytime soon.

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