We’ve been to the moon. Mars is easy. But landing on Venus? That’s tough.
- By Sam Kean
- Air & Space magazine, September 2010
(Page 4 of 4)
SAGE may not give us all the answers we want, but if its mission is approved, the spacecraft will literally die trying. The first bytes of data should arrive at mission control—causing the scientists and engineers to erupt in cheers—after the lander has finished its planned work and started to succumb on Mielikki Mons, 24 million miles away. Eventually heat will pierce its inner circuits, kinetic energy will rattle its molecules harder and harder, and hiccups will start to appear in the transmissions.
As Lori Glaze of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, envisions it based on work she’s done on other Venus mission concepts, the lander’s death will not be peaceful—no “Daai-sy, Daaaaai-sy” sign-off, followed by silence. After the batteries shut down, they will continue to bake in the 850-degree heat. Soon after, says Glaze, they will almost certainly explode, and the blast will probably breach the titanium pressure shield around the inner electronics. When the lander stops shuddering, the toxic air will go to work, eating any exposed wires down to the nubs, and the carbon dioxide will bleach any of the lander’s decorations (like American flags). All the metals will corrode, and the supercritical CO2 and acids and ocean-like pressure—all the hellish forces of Venus—will do what they do best, and destroy the lander piece by piece.
Sam Kean is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements (Little, Brown, 2010).