Cloud city of Bespin, from Stars Wars

Colonizing Venus With Floating Cities

Article Updated: 24 Dec , 2015

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Seemingly, people in the space community have a tendency to push the boundaries of thought about all the possibilities that await us in the universe. Case in point: Geoffrey Landis. Landis is a scientist at NASA’s Glenn Research Center who writes science fiction in his spare time. Last week Landis shared with us his ideas for using a solar powered airplane to study Venus. This week, Landis goes a step farther (actually, several steps farther) with his ideas about colonizing Venus. Yes, Venus, our hot, greenhouse-effect-gone-mad neighboring planet with a crushing surface pressure that has doomed the few spacecraft that have attempted to reach the planet’s mysterious landscape. Landis knows Venus’ surface itself is pretty much out of the question for human habitation. But up about 50 kilometers above the surface, Landis says the atmosphere of Venus is the most Earth-like environment, other than Earth itself, in the solar system. What Landis proposes is creating floating cities on Venus where people could live and work, as well as study the planet below.

“There’s been a lot of people who have been proposing space colonies, such as colonies that are in free space, separate from any planet,” said Landis. “And I said, well, if you’re thinking that far into the future why don’t we think of some more groundbreaking, or perhaps we should say atmosphere-breaking possibilities.”

50 km above the surface, Venus has air pressure of approximately 1 bar and temperatures in the 0°C-50°C range, a quite comfortable environment for humans. Humans wouldn’t require pressurized suits when outside, but it wouldn’t quite be a shirtsleeves environment. We’d need air to breathe and protection from the sulfuric acid in the atmosphere.

In looking at Venus, the fact that struck Landis the most is that Earth’s atmosphere of nitrogen and oxygen would actually float in Venus’ atmosphere of carbon dioxide. “Because the atmosphere of Venus is CO2, the gases that we live in all the time, nitrogen and oxygen, would be a lifting gas,” he said. “On Earth, we know to get something to lift, you need something lighter than air. Well, on Venus, guess what? Our air is lighter than air, or at least lighter than the Venus atmosphere.”

So, create a bubble, fill it with Earth-like atmosphere, and it would float on Venus. “If you could just take the room you’re sitting in and replace the walls with something thinner, the room would float on Venus,” said Landis.

The biggest challenge would be using a substance resistant to sulfuric acid to form the outer layer of the bubble; ceramics or metal sulfates could possibly serve in this role, but of course, you’d want to be able to see outside, as well. “Just think of the great pictures you could get,” said Landis.

Asked if he has ever thought about terraforming Venus, Landis said, “Oh, yes, of course! That’s one of the reasons I started thinking about the floating cities on Venus. The more you look at Venus, the more you say, ‘oh my goodness, terraforming would be a really hard project.'”

Back in about 1962 when Carl Sagan first talked about the concept of terraforming Venus, it wasn’t known what a challenge Venus would be. “They didn’t quite know how difficult Venus is, they didn’t know how thick the atmosphere was on Venus and how hot it was,” said Landis. “They knew it had a greenhouse effect, but they didn’t know how bad. But the more we look at the problems, the more we say, goodness, terraforming is a very difficult proposition.”

But Landis thinks Venus already has a very nice environment. “What I like to say, the problem with Venus is if you define sea level as the place in the atmosphere where it’s the same as Earth, the place of “sea level” on Venus is just too far above the ground.”

While Landis’ plans for a solar powered airplane are a true possibility for an upcoming mission to Venus, his ideas about colonizing that planet are a little more speculative. “This is really just a thought exercise,” said Landis, “an exercise in imagination rather than something we’re likely to do in the near term. I don’t expect people will be building cities on Venus, at least probably not in this century.”

Anyone having visions of Bespin and Lando Calrissian from “The Empire Strikes Back”?

Maybe that should be “Landis” Calrissian.

More information about Geoffrey Landis.


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LLDIAZ
Guest
LLDIAZ
July 16, 2008 11:53 AM

I was thinking the same thing if you fall your done..
What if we created a deathstar like planet (w/out the wmd’s) created entirely out of some kind of metal and just place it in orbit w/ the moon and earth. It would still be in the habitable zone and we would’nt be that far from home.

Joshua Brotman
Guest
Joshua Brotman
July 16, 2008 1:02 PM

I highly doubt Venus will be the first planet we colonize. If it is ever colonized it will be because there is a demand for some mineral, ore, metal, or gas which might be found abundant on or in the surface. Only then would it make sense to build such an incredibly complicated habitat that is comfortable enough for human life.

Of course the bots and flying sensors are well worth it and will increase in the future in their atmosphere.

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia
July 16, 2008 11:46 AM

It would be a heck of a drop if you fall over the railing. And couldn’t we just purchase enough carbon credits to thin out that atmosphere?

Andy
Guest
Andy
July 16, 2008 12:14 PM

Possible or not, I can’t think of a single compelling reason to do it. At least not on the scale of a city. I would like to see some sort of technology developed that would allow us to send floating unmanned research stations into the atmospheres of the outer planets. That way we could monitor conditions for days/weeks/months/years instead of having to deduce as much as we can about their weather from one flyby.

Sili
Member
Sili
July 16, 2008 12:39 PM

Crazy, of course. But all good ideas are at first.

It’d be nifty if we could find some way of effectively desulphurising SO_2_/SO_3_/H_2_SO_4_ to get a local source of oxygen.

sps
Guest
sps
July 16, 2008 12:43 PM

Many reasons to do it. Tourism, science, resource extraction, exploration, human spirit. I could go on.

mcenhillk
Member
mcenhillk
July 16, 2008 12:54 PM

Who WOULDN”T want to go to Venus? That is where all the women are!

smile

I’ll shut up now.

Dave S
Guest
Dave S
July 16, 2008 12:56 PM

This idea is just flaming bonkers. If they do this crazy project before they get around to me getting my own flying car I am really going to upset. If they did do this project the goofs who existed there would still be subject to the sun blowing up. I thought space exploration was all about hiding from the sun and rouge asteroids. Perhaps this floating city should be floated over the toilet for a moment and then flushed.

James
Guest
James
July 16, 2008 1:20 PM
Dave, a few things: -Not everyone dealing with space exploration are involved in the invention of a flying car. That’s like yelling at McDonalds for Burger King’s new fries (I just saw Wall-E, all I can think of are corporate restaurants. Pardon the metaphor) -Space exploration will probably be really beneficial to humans once we do start colonizing places or getting resources from other locations etcetc; however, for now we’re just learning about the final frontier. All these probes we’re sending out aren’t preparing the planets for us, they’re simply gathering information about our solar system. And that’s a very important step. We don’t really have any goal like ‘save us from the sun!’ or anything. Plus, the… Read more »
ChrisD
Guest
ChrisD
July 16, 2008 1:28 PM

They can barely build the small space station, so I won’t hold my breath while waiting for a Venus “floating city”…

unlimited_pastries
Guest
July 16, 2008 2:39 PM

gotta agree with ChrisD.
This would be an engineering project orders of magnitude beyond anything we’ve attempted, and the cost would be unrealistic to put it kindly.

Frank Glover
Guest
Frank Glover
July 16, 2008 2:43 PM

“If they do this crazy project before they get around to me getting my own flying car I am really going to upset. If they did do this project…”

Yeah. before this is done, they (whoever ‘they’ are) should make it possible for me to have my own personal computer too, and…oh, wait.

That part of the future DID happen…

Besides, think it through. Suppose we did get truly practical, affordable flying cars. I suspect thngs would look more like the mess shown in ‘The Fifth Element,’ rather than the neat, orderly flyways of ‘Back to the Future II’ or ‘The Jetsons.’

I don’t trust a lot of people to drive in TWO dimensions…

Kevin F.
Member
July 16, 2008 3:54 PM

Why build the cities floating in the atmosphere? too dangerous if things go wrong. Put the city in orbit and send down craft to sightsee and study.

Or if you’re hellbent on being in Venus’s atmosphere, build a huge tower a hundred miles tall and lower it to the surface, then put the city on it.

Astrofiend
Member
Astrofiend
July 16, 2008 5:45 PM

Sounds like something Greg Egan would dream up!

As the man said – it’s just a thought exercise. The energy required just to get the space station into L.E.O has been mind-boggling enough, and that’s just a piddling little thing!

miguel
Guest
miguel
July 16, 2008 9:51 PM

its very risky.falilur is 87.3 possiple(that’s what i think)

Ron
Guest
Ron
July 16, 2008 10:38 PM
I’m really tickled that someone else has finally thought of this! When considering other places to live in the universe, Venus has one advantage that Mars does not. Its gravitational acceleration is almost the same as Earth’s. One of the things that have not been addressed in all the planetary colonization schemes (as far as I know) is what will the affect of living and procreating in a gravity environment that has significantly less acceleration than Earth’s have on us? Can a child develop properly in an environment where the gravitational acceleration is less than Earth’s? If so what is the minimum gravitational acceleration that will allow this to happen? There needs to be a lot more research… Read more »
prospero
Member
prospero
July 16, 2008 11:29 PM

Takes me back to James Blish ‘Cities in Flight’ books.

MM
Guest
MM
July 17, 2008 1:38 AM

This is not new idea…

The russians proposed exactly the same idea of floating cities high in the Venus atmosphere, long time ago, some 30 years ago.

Maxwell
Member
Maxwell
July 17, 2008 3:38 AM

It is something to think about.
Venus will not be easy to build a city on, but it is a good target for terraformation (and thinking about how to control its temperature is a good thought exercise for dealing with long term climate swings on earth).

mang
Member
mang
July 17, 2008 4:57 AM

Floating cities on Jupiter/Saturn were part of a story by Azimov.

Fuller proposed an geodesic floating city on Earth.

Nasty triple threat atmosphere on Venus. Years ago as an undergrad I very briefly looked at what it would take to operate on the surface of Venus. Atmospheric diving suits can operate near the 90 atmospheres. An engineering friend thought that they might eventually even be able to beat the acid problem. But the heat would pretty effectively stop anything person sized.

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