We haven’t found any aliens (yet) but the “Big News” was finally revealed a few days back.
In an official release, my company announced that we would be building a robotic spacecraft for a private research mission to Venus.
In the proposed mission, named “CAELESTIS” — which will be the first ever private research mission to Venus — my team and I will be sending an AI-powered swarm of robotic Vulcan probes to the planet to study how, and why, Venus (which may have been the first potentially habitable planet in our solar system) transformed from a temperate world with rivers, lakes, and oceans, into a dry hellscape planet with crushing atmospheric pressures and temperatures hot enough to melt lead.
In other words, we’re going hunting for aliens.
But in more professional, more scientific sounding words, we’re going to study the meteorology of the middle cloud region and search for macroscopic life signatures within the atmospheric habitable zone.
This will be of the first returns to Earth’s sister planet in more than thirty years.
My team is super pumped.
So now that we got the long, boring intro out of the way, I guess I should take a moment to answer some of the burning questions people have been asking me all week:
How are you going to send a space robot to Venus?
Isn’t it far?
Are there actual aliens there?
Will it be expensive?
Is This Like Mission Impossible?
When it comes to space missions, it goes without saying that there is always a relatively high degree of difficulty (understatement), but when it comes to a mission to Venus (which is 25 million miles away from Earth), things can be especially challenging.
For starters, surface temperatures on Venus are about 900 degrees Fahrenheit (475 degrees Celsius) so it can be very tricky to complete any sort of robotic landing on the surface.
Most that have attempted have only survived for short periods of time, or have melted within minutes.
So why build an expensive space robot and send it all the way to Venus only to have it be destroyed?
The short answer: Venus may be able to answer some very interesting questions about our home planet of Earth and improve life here in the future.
One of the major questions my team and I have been dying to figure out ever since we were kids is: How is it you can have an alien world that’s functionally the same as Earth, a similar size to Earth, and a similar distance from the Sun, be a thousand-degree hell-planet with a poisonous atmosphere – rather than a green oasis with oceans and continents and life like Earth?
Most of the space nerds out there know “Earth’s Sister Planet” has a similar density and size to Earth… but the twinning resemblance kind of stops there.
Venus is an alien volcanic hell of extreme heat and gas — and spending a day there would be quite a weird and unusual experience, if you can even last that long in the nearly one thousand degree inferno.
First, Venus spins backwards, and one “day” on the planet lasts for 243 Earth days – and if that doesn’t throw you off, don’t forget that that a Venus day is actually longer than a Venus year (one trip around the Sun), which takes 225 Earth days.
Pretty weird, right?
Venus is also the hottest planet in our solar system — the atmosphere is full of heat-trapping carbon dioxide and clouds thick with sulfuric acid — all of which overlooks a dry surface of volcanic rock that is constantly blasted by high temperatures and pressures.
The atmosphere is so thick that, from the surface, the Sun is just a tiny flicker of light.
Also, due to the planet’s incredibly slow rotation, sunrise to sunset takes 117 Earth days — and to keep things on brand and weird, the Sun on Venus rises in the west and sets in the east because of the backward spin compared to Earth.
Venus is also unable to produce any noticeable seasonality due to its incredibly slight tilt of only three degrees, compared to Earth, which has a spin axis that’s tilted by about 23 degrees.
Every day on Venus is a “summer of hell” quite literally…
Fun Fact: Venus has more volcanoes than any other planet in the solar system. Researchers have suggested that there are over 1,600 major volcanoes or volcanic features on Venus, many of which had been long assumed dormant, but a recent study suggests the planet has 37 massive active volcanoes. Some believe the total number of volcanoes on Venus may be over 100,000 or even over 1,000,000.
I’m not quite sure what level of ‘Alien Planet’ Venus is on, but when you take all of the stats into account, it definitely sounds like a textbook “Deadly Alien Planet.”
It’s literally one of the last places anyone would ever think to look for life beyond Earth.
That’s why it came as such a shock last year when researchers announced that they had made the surprising – and controversial – discovery of phosphine (a compound of phosphorus and a possible signature of alien life) — in the Venusian atmosphere.
Is it possible that phosphine, a chemical that, on Earth, is primarily produced by living organisms, could possibly exist in the harsh, alien environment of Venus?
It’s definitely possible… but the debate still rages as to whether phosphine itself would be proof of life.
Some researchers have even questioned whether Venus contains any phosphine at all.
You see, here on Earth, phosphine is usually found in common places that host anaerobic life such as marshes, lakes, and paddy fields — so it isn’t terribly surprising to see researchers debating the merit of using phosphine as a biosignature for life on Venus… simply because the environment on Venus is practically a complete 180 compared to the environment here on Earth.
Scientific debate aside, there is only one mystery that everyone wants to know when it comes to any planet in space: is it possible that alien life exists there?
So, holding true to my principle of “less theory, more application” I opted to skip the long, boring scientific debates here on Earth and just send robot probes over to Venus and find out for myself.
To be honest, doing the probe thing may actually be a lot easier than the debate.
But I digress…
Are There Really Aliens on Venus?
I know the theory of life on Venus has been called into question, and that the presence of phosphine has been hotly debated by quite a few very intelligent humans recently.
I’m no expert when it comes to the universe, so I have no problem admitting this… but… the only thing we really know about Venus is that we barely know anything about Venus.
My team and I believe that habitable pockets may (with emphasis on may) have existed in Venus’ atmosphere for millions, perhaps even billions of years — and that perhaps they may still even exist today.
The key word here is: MAY…
It’s difficult to form a solid hypothesis with the limited data that we have so far, but CAELESTIS may be able to put the entire argument to rest, if it is able to detect phosphine when it samples the atmosphere.
That’s why we ultimately greenlit this mission, because we are explorers by nature, and we want to go out there and learn as much as we can.
Is there life up there hiding in the Venusian clouds?
Does Venus contain clues that may lead to discoveries of how our world was formed?
But to find out for sure, we need to go up there and see if there may be anything interesting hiding in the Venusian atmospheric zone.
To be perfectly honest… I’m excited to see what we can find.
There’s no guarantee we’ll find life, of course, but even if we discover that the phosphine theory is flawed, there are still 1,000,000 other reasons to go study Venus — and my hope is that CAELESTIS will show the world it’s possible to do major space missions privately, and affordably now.
For those who are old enough to remember, planetary exploration missions like this used to cost hundreds of millions of dollars and would take ten or more years to launch, but unlike the missions of the past, CAELESTIS will be using a more cost-effective, efficient, faster development model that is being designed to deliver big science in a small package.
With this new approach, I believe we can increase the science community’s access to the solar system (hopefully minimizing unproductive whitepaper battles in the process) and help us to learn a lot more, faster, at a much lower cost.
That, in itself, will be a big win for science.
The Deimos-One space probes are planned for launch in 2023, ridesharing aboard a commercial launch vehicle.
So What Is CAELESTIS?
In Roman mythology, Venus aka “Venus Caelestis” or “Venus of the Heavens” is a goddess whose functions encompassed love, desire, sex, fertility, beauty, prosperity, and victory.
She is considered the ancestor of the Roman people through her son and mythological progenitor, Aeneas (the legendary Trojan hero) and is a fabled character in Roman mythology.
Being the space slash history nerds that we are, we figured it would only be fitting to name the entire thing Caelestis in honor of “Celestial Venus” aka the Roman goddess and brightest planet in our solar system.
You see, Vulcan is husband to Venus in Roman mythology, and here we are, planning to fly a Vulcan robot mission to Venus.
Vulcan to Venus.
It just made too much sense.
Fun nerd facts aside, the CAELESTIS mission will be slightly different to previous missions to Venus.
In the past, missions to Venus have relied on orbit insertion, but the CAELESTIS probes will make direct atmospheric entry.
The mission sequence will consist of an Earth launch and escape, Venus arrival, direct atmospheric entry and descent, balloon deployment and hover operations, balloon failure, and a surface landing.
We plan to do this using an AI-powered swarm of robotic Vulcan probes which will carry instrumentation to study the atmosphere, topography, and geologic processes of Venus (and most importantly, look for aliens in the clouds).
The mission will leverage a unique, multi-dimensional viewpoint of the Venusian environment as the robotic swarm surveys the atmosphere at an altitude of 50 to 70 kilometers — the multi-probe analysis should provide deeper insight into the poorly understood (and hotly debated) meteorology of the middle cloud region.
So, if there’s a bunch of phosphine up there, we should be able to detect and measure it.
And if we don’t find any phosphine, there are still a million other interesting things up there to study and learn.
Let the journey begin.
To learn more about the CAELESTIS Mission:
Read the full story on Yahoo Finance
Read the Mission Specs