A study conducted internally in 2015 by NASA’s Langley Research Center proposed the space agency use its new Space Launch System (SLS) rocket to send a crewed mission to Venus as preparation for the longer crewed journey to Mars.
The mission would take a total of 440 days, of which astronauts would spend 30 days in Venus’ atmosphere 31 miles (50 km) above the surface.
It would essentially constitute a test of SLS, which would insert the crewed spacecraft into Venus orbit. A habitable high altitude balloon, the astronauts’ quarters while orbiting Venus, would subsequently deploy and inflate.
In contrast to a Venus mission, a round-trip journey to Mars would take at minimum 700 days, the researchers noted.
Another benefit is launch windows to Venus occur more frequently than those to Mars, every 1.5 years as opposed to every two years, said Jeff Matthews, Director of Venture Strategy and Research at The Space Frontier Foundation, a non-profit space advocacy group that promotes collaboration between commercial spaceflight companies and governments.
Located on the edge of the solar system’s habitable zone, Venus has a thick atmosphere, no water, and surface pressure more than 92 times greater than that on Earth. Its surface temperature is approximately 864 degrees Fahrenheit (462 degrees Celsius), hot enough to melt most electronics.
However, scientists are now developing new technologies capable of surviving the planet’s high temperatures, to the point that astronauts in orbit around Venus could remotely operate rovers on its surface.
“As the closest planet to Earth, and the planet most similar to Earth in size, understanding Venus is of great importance to understanding the solar system and the nature of Earth-like planets,” NASA Glenn Research Center scientist Geoffrey Landis told Forbes.com.
“But it has very much been under-explored in comparison to its smaller cousin, Mars,” he noted.
The best option for a Venus mission, whether crewed or un-crewed, is a public-private partnership between NASA and a spaceflight corporation such as SpaceX, Matthews said.