Our Place in Space: HAVOC

Hello, friends!  Welcome to Our Place in Space: A to Z!  For this year’s A to Z Challenge, I’ll be taking you on a partly imaginative and highly optimistic tour of humanity’s future in outer space.  If you don’t know what the A to Z Challenge is, click here to learn more.  In today’s post, H is for…


Venus is my favorite planet.  If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you probably already know this about me.  The Venusian atmosphere is weird and chemically complex.  The surface is mysteriously smooth, hinting at some pretty extreme geological activity.  And did you know Venus is spinning the wrong way?  She rotates clockwise where every other planet in our Solar System has counterclockwise rotation.  In many ways, I feel like Venus is the planet with the most personality (aside from Earth, of course).  So if there’s a realistic possibility of humans colonizing Venus one day, nothing would please me more!

HAVOC stands for High Altitude Venus Operational Concept.  It’s NASA’s very preliminary plan for exploring Venus, first with robots, then with astronauts, with the eventual goal of establishing a permanent human presence.  Most people scoff at the idea of sending humans to Venus.  Surface conditions are hellish.  The surface temperature is 475 degrees Celsius (900 degrees Fahrenheit).  Atmospheric pressure is 90 times greater than what we experience here on Earth.  Sulfuric acid falls from the sky as rain, and don’t forget about that extreme geological activity I mentioned.  Nobody’s sure what’s happening, but the ground is too smooth, as if it gets regularly “repaved” with fresh lava.

But HAVOC would not involve putting boots on the ground.  Instead, astronauts would explore Venus from the safety of blimps and other airborne habitats.  At an altitude of 55 kilometers above the surface, Venus is quite nice.  You might even call it heavenly.  The temperature and pressure are roughly Earth-normal.  We’d experience Earth-like gravity, too, and Venus would provide almost Earth-like protection from solar and cosmic radiation (a service that the Moon and Mars do not offer).  Also, 55 kilometers up, we wouldn’t have to worry about the sulfuric acid rain; we’d be above the layer of sulfuric acid clouds!

Obviously this is not happening any time soon.  The people at NASA seem to have their hearts set on returning to the Moon in the near future, with a long term goal of getting to Mars.  Still, the idea of exploring Venus with blimps makes sense.  In some ways, Venus might end up being a better second home for humans than Mars—just so long as we stay at that 55 kilometer altitude.

So in the distant future, when humanity is spreading out across the Solar System, don’t be surprised if large numbers of people live in Cloud City-like habitats on Venus.

Want to Learn More?

Check out this paper from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, detailing HAVOC as a five phase plan to explore and colonize Venus.

Also, here’s a video from NASA showing what a HAVOC mission might look like, from first arrival in Venusian orbit to safe return back on Earth.

16 thoughts on “Our Place in Space: HAVOC

  1. Fraser Cain on his podcast recently pointed out something I hadn’t thought about on these high altitude habitats, that the logistics of getting them into place, as well as arriving at and leaving them, would be extremely challenging. Imagine coming in from orbit and stopping at the 55 km line while unfurling the balloon. And getting back to orbit would have to contend with Venus’ gravitational well without normal launch infrastructure or resources. Which means those resources, such as large booster stages, would have to come from somewhere else, and also have to be delivered to and sustained in the 55 km region until used.

    Of course, with enough improvements in propulsion technology, it might all become more feasible. Until then, it might be a lot easier to study Venus from orbit. We could send some blimp probes down into the upper atmosphere. Still nontrivial logistics, but we don’t have to worry about getting those back out.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ah. That’s what I get for not watching the video first. I see the proposed mission isn’t meant to establish anything permanent. Things do become a lot easier that way. Still, boosting out of the Venusian atmosphere seems like it would be more difficult than that.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The paper I cited goes into some detail about the logistics problems. Inflating the blimp while falling through Venus’s atmosphere sounds like the biggest challenge. You can’t do it too soon, or it’ll burn from the heat of entry. You can’t do it too late, or you’ll crash. There’s a very narrow window of time when you can inflate it, and it needs to inflate really, really quickly.

        Phase 1 and phase 2 of HAVOC both involve robotic blimps, which wouldn’t need a return vehicle. And if any of this is going to happen in the near future, I think it’s the phase 1 and phase 2 stuff. For later phases, rocket fuel can be made in situ using Venus’s atmospheric gases. That would cut down significantly on how much mass needs to be delivered from Earth. Although I do agree with you, it would still be a huge logistical problem getting the return vehicle to Venus, in addition to everything else.

        The permanent presence on Venus is phase 5 of the HAVOC plan. For some strange reason, there don’t seem to be a whole lot of details about how phase 5 would work, but that is still the end goal for HAVOC. Definitely something for the distant future, like most of the stuff I’m talking about this month.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. What a great acronym 🙂 I did not know any of these things about Venus – how fascinating. It does make sense to me that rather than occupy planets and attempt to adjust their natural state to accommodate humans, having “floating” manmade cities which will exist in their orbit and take advantage of them seems a practical way to go.

    Debs visiting this year from
    Making Yourself Relationship Ready

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There is a certain logic to the idea. As a Venus fan, I’d love to see something like this happen. Although I’m sure it’s more challenging than the HAVOC plan makes it sound. Otherwise, NASA wouldn’t still be so focused on Mars.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I did not know Venus was your favourite
    It’s mine too!!!!

    Ever since I was a kid I have been fascinated by Venus. One reason is similar to yours- the unique clockwise rotation!
    Another cause I am born on a Friday.. and a poem that was taught to me in school associated all days of the week to planets and Friday was Venus!
    And I totally agree, she definitely has a completely interesting personality!!!

    I didn’t know about the 55km altitude thing. Thank you for giving me the teeniest bit of hope to a girl who has always wanted to go there ❤

    Liked by 1 person

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