Venus ISRU Latest Thoughts

A friend sent me this YouTube video earlier this morning:

While this video really covers a lot of the same ground as previous posts in my Venus ISRU series, it still got me thinking about where we stand as far as closing a plan for Venusian settlement.

As I see, it here are the big questions I’d still like to see more thought put into to help validate the feasibility of the concept of building settlements on Venus, in no particular order:

  1. Water and Sulfuric Acid are very low density in the Venusian atmosphere, but is it possible to extract water or sulfuric acid in useful quantities? I have some ideas, but not enough ChemE-fu to really analyze them.
  2. Are there materials you can make readily from Venusian atmospheric feedstocks that are resistant enough to Sulfuric Acid to serve as external layers for a settlement? I’ve done a little research on this, but have questions because I don’t know how to compare low-density Sulfuric Acid aerosols to the various SA concentrations in the chemical compatibility literature. For instance, since it’s very dilute, would HDPE or PEX work? Those are some of the easiest polymers to make off-world. This might require testing in a Venus cloud environment simulation chamber (we’d love to build one if people have money and are interested!). The reason this question is important is that if you can’t make the outer boundary layer from locally derived materials, that become a lot of mass you have to ship from earth–even if most of the elements can be procured locally.
  3. What construction materials can you realistically make locally? I’m digging into this one a bit, and it looks like I see pathways forward to simple plastics (PE/LLDPE/HDPE/UHMWPE/PEX, and PP), there may be pathways to more complex plastics that only rely on local materials, but I haven’t dug that far. I’ve also seen reasonable paths to carbon fiber (via PAN), and sulfurcrete, all assuming we can extract enough hydrogen from atmospheric water and/or sulfuric acid. But that still leaves a lot of questions unanswered. The more of the mass of your colony you can make locally, the less you have to ship in.
  4. How do you do the reentry, landing, and return to orbit transportation in a way that works safely and reliably, including aborts, rendezvous/landing with the platforms, etc. If you can’t get stuff safely and reliably down and back, Venus might end up more of a one-way trip than Mars, and it will be harder for it to participate commercially with the rest of humanity. Once again, I have some ideas, but actually fleshing out working transportation concepts is going to take a lot more work.
  5. What would a Venus cloud city really look like, if you look at the required gas envelope and structures made from realistically locally-derived materials? After factoring in all the required hardware to make a new unit cell, how much mass is left over for other things (like people, water, plants, etc). What does this mean for what a Venus city might look like?
  6. Once you know the end-state of a modular cloud city derived from local materials, how heavy is the ISRU hardware to start that process? What structural volume and air/water production rate could you sustain with an ISRU plant you can land in a single mission?
  7. What materials can you not derive locally from the atmosphere? How much of them do you need if you’re creative? Are any of them ones that could be harvested robotically form the surface? Do we have any good ideas for mining architectures to make that happen?

Anyhow, food for thought. If you’re interested in the idea of Venus cloud colonies, these are some of the questions I’d be focusing on.

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Jonathan Goff

Jonathan Goff

President/CEO at Altius Space Machines
Jonathan Goff is a space technologist, inventor, and serial space entrepreneur who created the Selenian Boondocks blog. Jon was a co-founder of Masten Space Systems, and is the founder and CEO of Altius Space Machines, a space robotics startup in Broomfield, CO. His family includes his wife, Tiffany, and five boys: Jarom (deceased), Jonathan, James, Peter, and Andrew. Jon has a BS in Manufacturing Engineering (1999) and an MS in Mechanical Engineering (2007) from Brigham Young University, and served an LDS proselytizing mission in Olongapo, Philippines from 2000-2002.
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39 Responses to Venus ISRU Latest Thoughts

  1. Pingback: Settling Venus | Transterrestrial Musings

  2. John Schilling says:

    Shouldn’t there be a question or two about the motive and economic viability of such a settlement? If it is possible to survive 50km or so above the Venusian surface but there’s nothing useful to do there that couldn’t be done just as well somewhere else, this seems to offer little more than an opportunity to spend $bignum for the sole purpose of being able to say, “There are people living on another planet! Yay us!”, for as long as we are willing to keep paying the upkeep.

  3. Nitrogen and carbon dioxide are the most precious resources in the upper atmosphere of Venus, IMO. It should be easy to mine these chemicals with a nuclear powered PROFAC grazing the upper atmosphere and depositing the carbon dioxide and nitrogen into cold traps.

    Nitrogen and carbon dioxide , of course, will be essential for growing food in space and on the surface of the Moon. Oxygen for breathing and rocket propellant could also be extracted from the carbon dioxide.

    While I can imagine large tourist vessels floating in the Cytherean atmosphere, I really don’t see the logic of any floating colonies in the atmosphere since you could place titanic rotating colonies in orbit around Venus, constructed from light sail imported meteor and meteoroid materials.


  4. Tom Billings says:

    John Schilling: Motivations may have to do with surface deposits, but more likely will have the structure of “It’s *not* crawling with the bureaucrats of a species of large obstreperously violent primates”. People continually underestimate that as a motivation. If Musk, or anyone else, can drop inner Solar System immigration costs to $500,000, then some group will try. Succeed? Dunno.

    Jon: For those desires to resist the corrosion of H2SO4 and other chemical species, we may simply accept *some* corrosion, and set up a continual robotic inspection and repair process for the exterior surface. At worst we can harvest Iridium from CC Asteroids. My Solar System Delta-vee map seems to add up 8.631 km/sec to Low Venus Orbit from Phobos, as a worst case. While that seems like a lot, almost all of it can be done by ion engines and/or lightsails, and the Mars settlement can supply cheap Argon for ion engines. Any *single* destination will not pay off. An industrial network throughout the Solar System will.

  5. Patrick says:

    According to some random web forum [0], 98% H2SO4 in HDPE is commonly accepted as Just Fine, even if glass is probably better. The bigger problem seems to be UV-induced brittleness which can be mitigated with stabilizers but it’s not clear what lifetimes can be expected.


  6. Jonathan Goff Jonathan Goff says:

    I agree that the motivations and economic viability of off-world colonies is an important topic. But in many ways it’s interrelated to the questions of how hard it is to get to and back from Venus, and how hard it is to create living spaces from the atmospheric resources. If for instance getting to/from Venus was cheap enough, and making living spaces was easy once there, people wanting to live or visit there may be a sufficient reason to exist (tourist destination? retirement location? just a beautiful place to live?). If it is easy to get to Venus and live there, but really hard to come back, that would imply different possible applications (prison colony?). But if it’s impossible to get there, and hard to live off the land, then it might not be worth settling even if someone found pure platinum deposits on the surface.

    That said, one application I can think of is that the combination of having a good atmosphere, no magnetosphere, faster orbital period than Earth, different synodic period relative to NEOs than Earth, lots of solar power, etc might all make Venus an interesting place for a transportation node (same applies to Mars). Combine orbital propellant depots, ISRU propellant harvesting (via either colonies in the atmosphere, PROFAC, or both), SEP tugs in orbit, etc, and it might actually make a good location for sending probes to interesting NEOs (the best NEOs tend to have long synodic periods relative to earth, but short ones relative to Venus and Mars).

    But all told, I’m curious to see how hard it is to reach, return from, and live on Venus, because if we can find good answers for that, I think we have a reasonable shot at finding economic reasons for doing so. Plus, trying to make economic predictions about what will be economically interesting 20yrs from now seems like a fools errand.


  7. Jonathan Goff Jonathan Goff says:

    Yeah that was some of my thinking as well. I did some reading that suggested HDPE might work, but agree that the UV survivability is a critical question. How much UV penetrates down to the 50km altitude level? Is it enough to be a showstopper, or a non-problem? Not sure yet.


  8. Bob Steinke says:

    One nice thing is that the colony doesn’t need to be in a pressure vessel, just a raincoat. Even if HDPE has a limited lifetime it shouldn’t be hard to make sacrificial layers that can be replenished from the inside.

  9. Patrick,
    Thanks for the suggestion! After digging a bit, it looks like there are additives called HALS (hindered amine light stabilizers) that even in 0.2-0.3% concentrations can significantly increase the UV lifetime of HDPE films. Apparently when UV hits the HDPE it creates radicals, but the HALS quench that reaction (and regenerate). They were saying HDPE structures could have lifetimes in the 10-15yrs range without debilitating UV degradation when using HALS additives.

    But it gets better–if you use a non-basic HALS additive (ie HALS molecules that are not alkaline), they apparently help deal with the chemical attacks from oxidizing chemicals such as sulfuric acid. Unfortunately, unlike regular HALS, non-basic HALS don’t have their production methodology described in Wikipedia, so I’m having to do more digging. Regular HALS look like something you could make on Venus (you need ammonia, propylene, and oxygen, and a dozen or so steps, but it looks doable). Let me see if I can find a non-basic HALS chemical that I can get production steps for…


  10. Where do you get hydrogen on Venus?

  11. RadicalModerate,
    Potentially from water or sulfuric acid in the atmosphere. There’s not a lot of it, but there may be enough. That’s the point of my question #1. If it is economical to extract water and/or sulfuric acid from the atmosphere, that’s the easiest route. If you can’t get it that way, you’d have to import it, and this all becomes a lot harder. Which is why I put that question up at the top.

  12. john hare says:

    Power shouldn’t be a problem dayside with high intensity solar flux with low skew rates. Nightside however would be nukes or SPS which is slightly more entertaining. Solar powered factory floaties if someone develops a unique product.

  13. John,
    As Chris has pointed out, there are pretty significant thermal gradients on Venus near the loud level, which means you might be able to do a thermal heat engine driven off of that temperature difference. Would be a lot more power dense and a lot more steady than solar. But in orbit, solar is awesome (2x the flux as at earth).


  14. Brock says:

    It seems to me that before we are seriously talking about colonizing anything off-Earth, we will have mastered harvesting asteroids and comets for their useful materials, and returning them to Luna or Earth LEO. If we can do that, capturing a big icy asteroid that passes near Venus anyway and nudging it into a stable orbit around Venus could be a prelude to human habitation. Naturally the asteroid could be selected for its material composition that best complements what Venus is missing.

    I sort of agree with Marcel Williams, above, though. I don’t see any of the planets as very attractive colonization targets compared to free-space rotating habs. A habitat would have exactly whatever gravity and atmosphere you desire, and escaping the gravity well is as easy as taking an elevator up a spoke to the hub. This seems to be a far preferable situation to all the compromises involved with living on a non-Earth planet.

    My bet for how development of the solar system goes (assuming a linear development path, and not a hard takeoff singularity) is that we will build habitats in the places easiest to collect large materials (Lagrange points) from the materials easiest to mine and move (asteroids), and we will only turn to the other planets for industrial reasons once all the asteroids have been turned into habitats already.

  15. John Schilling says:

    @Jon “If it is easy to get to Venus and live there, but really hard to come back, that would imply different possible applications (prison colony?).”

    I’m not seeing the “if” there; Venus is about as easy to get to as any celestial body thanks to a convenient orbit and thick atmosphere for aerobraking, but it’s harder to come back from than any celestial body this side of Jupiter. The gravity well is about as deep as Earth’s, and the resources at the launch site are quite limited. We are at the point of barely being able to contemplate economically viable launch from Earth, where LOX and kerosene can be bulk-ordered for $0.60/gal and $2/gal or so respectively; do you have anything resembling a path to economically competitive Venus-LVO launch?

    So, yeah, prison colonies. Or anything else that involves such a hostile relationship with the rest of the solar system that a one-way trip to Venus is preferable and an expectation that the rest of the solar system will continue to provide them with the necessities you can’t make in the Venusian upper atmosphere even though you can’t export anything to pay for them. If you’re filthy rich, you could perhaps go to Venus and come back – but come back less rich, with nothing to show for it but the memories.

    I’m guessing the filthy rich tourists will prefer Earth orbit, the Moon, Mars, maybe the rings of Saturn in the long run, but Venus I don’t see anywhere near the top of the tourist-destination list. There will be a few scientists who are interested in Cytherian matters, but since they can’t visit the surface anyhow they’ll probably just want to teleoperate their probes from low orbit. Who else is there, aside from the prisoners?

  16. Paul D. says:

    One potential resource on Venus is deuterium. The hydrogen there is highly enriched in this isotope, by a factor of 150 (!) over terrestrial values. This also means whatever hydrogen you extract there will also be highly enriched, which might have health implications if it’s to be used for human consumption.

  17. Peterh says:

    For structural material I’m thinking carbon fiber.

  18. gbaikie says:

    –Water and Sulfuric Acid are very low density in the Venusian atmosphere, but is it possible to extract water or sulfuric acid in useful quantities? I have some ideas, but not enough ChemE-fu to really analyze them.–

    This is like saying there are trillions of tons of water in clouds on Earth is it possible
    to get the water from the clouds directly [instead of the rain falling and then collecting it on the land surface]. Or on Venus it rains Sulfuric Acid but it can not reach the ground because the high temperature transforms the H2SO4 into SO2 + H20.
    Or if we had clouds of water on earth which always evaporated before reaching the ground, could one mine the clouds for water.
    It seems what is needed is exploration of Venus, but Venus will have variation in concentrations of whatever one wants to mine and the other bit is what is “useful quantities”. Or “useful quantities” is same as how much value in dollars can you get in comparison to dollars spent to get it. And one has to have a market or create a market
    in order to begin to understand one valuation of the “useful quantities”.

    So for example the value of water on the Moon is related/connected to cost of shipping rocket fuel from Earth to the Moon. Or shipping water from Earth.
    One could begin by asking is it cheaper to ship water from Earth to Venus as compared to shipping it to the Moon. Or how much can I buy earth water on Venus.
    Or if I had 1 billion dollars to spend, how much earth water could get shipped to Venus? Or more specifically if had platform at 60 km elevation on Venus how many tons of water could I get shipped for 1 billion dollar to that platform. And compare this to a flat mountain top on the Moon [say polar region]. With the Moon is seems one could get about 50 tons, and if use same assumption can get about the same to Venus- or could get significantly more or less.
    The part of this, is the 50 tons of water delivered worth 1 billion dollars? Or what can you do with it. On moon or Venus one use the water for some kind of crewed base- and with a government base, whose running it, could be thrilled to get such a deal.
    But it gets back to why you have a governmental crewed base.
    Anyways 1 billion divided by 50,000 kg is $20,000 per kg, and generally the more one shipped could result in lower cost per kg, though it possible that for 1 billion dollars
    one could instead get 100 tons or even more.
    Now I think water on the Moon is worth about $1000 per kg or less because I think there could minable lunar water and there could enough demand for lunar water.
    Too low demand is 50 tons per 5 years and with this demand, water is about $10,000 per kg or lunar water is not minable whereas 500 tons per 5 years is somewhere near threshold of being minable or somewhere around $1000 per kg is possible, but such valuation is dependent on continued demand and with possibility of significant increase
    in the demand after the 5 years. And depends upon the exploration results- how much does it cost as indicated by specific exploration related a plan of lunar water mining of specific area of the Moon and region of concern is related to about 1 square km of some region of the surface of the Moon. Or in the short term [less than 10 years]
    one is focused on the first 5-10 thousand ton of mined lunar water- where there is million of tons of minable water over tens of square km is not important or cost to extract first 5000 tons is the focus.
    But the topic is Venus, but one say the killer app of the Moon is minable water or the creation of rocket fuel on the lunar surface- and this is because it lower the cost to get to the Moon. In terms of importance to NASA [or any space agency] it’s value is it starts another market [in addition to the satellite market] in space- and without any existing market in space, these agencies would cease to exist [more market more existence- and of course is a validation of their past existence].
    And it seems to me, that Venus [as would Mars] follows exploration of the Moon to determine if and where there is minable lunar water, and topic of Venus is related to what is explored, next. Who explore Venus [NASA, partnership with NASA, other space agencies, or some private effort to do the exploration] may be interesting, but seems in terms of colonization of Venus [or Mars] I suppose that there already exist an existing market of water in the space environment. And the price of that water at high earth orbit is about $1000 per per kg [or less]. Or in the beginning of some decade, high earth orbit water is more than $1000 per kg and at the end of that decade is could be about $500 per kg, and adding another decade of time, it could be around $200 per kg [or less].

    A question could be, how much does the cost of water need to be in high earth orbit
    to allow settlements of Venus? And it shipping water, H2, and gaseous oxygen would be cheap- as they can be are less dense than Venus atmosphere and one is shipping things that float to the Venus “surface”. So warm water [water vapor] oxygen and hydrogen are the stuff to make things float in atmosphere of Venus- or used as part of
    how you get other things to Venus surface.

    Though Venus orbit could be a hub of interplanetary travel, if going to ship water, why not ship it to Venus. Venus has more solar energy than Earth orbit. Venus L-2 has the shade of Venus, so it can have less solar flux if that is needed/desired. Hohmann transfer are quicker than Earth to anywhere in solar system. So rather than price of water [or rocket fuel] at high earth, instead it could more significant what price is in Venus high orbit.

  19. gbaikie says:

    Let’s game a time sequence.
    NASA finishes lunar exploration by 2025. The result being favorable sites are found on the Moon’s polar region that lunar water mining could be done.
    And in accordance to Congress approval of the plan to first explore the Moon, and then explore Mars, by 2025 NASA is finding or found a site on Mars to put a base.

    And NASA has finally reached the conclusion that it must get crew to Mars [or anywhere else] in less than 3 months. To reduce radiation effects of the travel time and to reduce the effects of micro gravity. Or one needs a healthy crew once one arrived at some base- crew are expensive to get to a different planet and there time is worth somewhere around 1 million dollars per hour- and sick crew are worst than useless/worthless.
    [And happy crew have more value than crew with low morale- maybe twice as much.
    So no way not to have crew disabled to some extent- but one does things to reduce this effect in terms of severity and recovery time.]

    By 2025 it’s unlikely we know the effect of several years of 1/3rd [and less] gravity.
    And part of putting crew on Mars could getting more information about such longer terms effects. Or that important in terms of part of answer of whether Mars settlements are viable.
    As general note we are morally oppose to medical experiments on humans if we are testing harmful effects. Whereas, ok, in some instances, of testing ways to could be beneficial effects for people with illnesses.
    If sole purpose of mars exploration were determine the bad effects of low gravity upon healthy human beings, one entering moral realm of war crimes. Of course something like climbing Mt Everest is not good for one’s health. But a government is not sending people to MT Everest with purpose of testing such bad effects, though nothing wrong with determining the such effects upon people climbing Mt Everest [other than only small population is involved- governmental funds could be spent on something which effects more their citizens].

    So a major part of Mars exploration can’t be human testing of low gravity, it rather seems to me that requirement of exploring Mars could include long stays on Mars surface, and also a fairly fast return to Earth related to averse possibilities related to long duration stays on Mars- but generally since one has medical infrastructure on Earth, one doesn’t need to return crew to Earth in less than 3 months- or within first couple years one could would establish an emergency fast return to Earth, though always have return to Earth within say 5 to 6 month return times- or this would be normal way to return to Earth from Mars. By long terms stays on Mars, I mean they are about 4 years and such long stays should be be recovery period in terms having lower radiation levels as compared to the trip times to and from Mars and hopefully possibly a recovery period of sorts from effects of microgravity of the trip.
    Anyhow it seems that within the above context, crewed trips to Venus could be related, though one could ask where such additional funding could be “found”.

    To answer such an objection, I have to back track to a reason NASA should explore the Moon. I think NASA should explore the Moon to determine where and if there is commercially minable water, as a pathway to get adequate funding for Mars exploration which may require decades of funding and hundreds of billions in total budgetary cost.
    A key to this is to have a short lunar exploration time period, or entire lunar exploration program costing about 40 billion dollars and being completed in less than 10 years.
    And if following the lunar exploration, one actually gets commercial lunar water mining and/or other nations building lunar bases near such found sites, this will help sustain Mars exploration.
    Now NASA doesn’t need commercial lunar water and/or other space agencies building lunar bases as result to have the lunar exploration to be helpful to fund Mars exploration, simply doing a relatively cheap and brief lunar exploration program would be useful for this purpose. But an important aspect related to doing a lunar program is do the program at costs it told congress it would cost.
    So if NASA promises to do lunar program for total cost of 20 billion and ends up costing 200 billion that would damage the prospects of getting Mars exploration funding- because when they say Mars going to cost 100 to 200 billion, this will mean 1 to 2 trillion dollars [or more (infinite costs)].
    The other side of this is the possibility of having a result of getting a robust amount of lunar activity following NASA lunar exploratory, and a relatively huge amount enthusiasm for increasing NASA budgets for exploration.
    Or what SpaceX is currently doing is fairly well known by the public and if times that by 10, it will have political results. And anyone profitable mining water on the Moon will be, at least times it by 10.
    I thinking NASA can explore Mars somewhere within it’s current budget or less than 25 billion per year in total and if 5 to 10 billion or added, than one has possibility of Venus exploration and Mercury and other destinations could be explored at same time as the Mars exploration.

    So finish NASA lunar exploration, start Mars exploration program, plus within few years get lunar commercial lunar mining- and related to that is lunar tourism, lunar sample returns, other lunar mining, other space agencies lunar activity. And at this point, NASA mars exploration may seem rather slow- every 2 years crew land on Mars and every couple years drew return. It would easy to imagine that public and NASA wants to have more stuff happening. So doing something like robotic landing on Mercury might seems to be needed. And Venus exploration is relatable to Mars exploration- if doing long stays on Mars, why not compare this with long stays on Venus and one has shorter launch windows to Venus. And one could even see Venus orbit as way station to Mars. Or it’s possible Venus could be seen as a near term hub to the solar system. So say +5 years after first crew have gone to Mars surface, before 2035, one could be establishing manned bases in Venus atmosphere and have them crewed before 2040.
    And human settlements on Venus and/or Mars might begin before 2050. And with lunar/asteroid water being about $500 per kg in Earth, Venus, and/or Mars high orbit. And with settlements reaching more than 100 population, water dropping to about $200 per kg.

  20. Paul D. says:

    gbaikie: it is possible to get water from clouds here on Earth (or, rather, from fog, which is ground level clouds), and this may be practical in certain special situations.

  21. gbaikie says:

    –Paul D. says:
    January 17, 2016 at 8:49 pm

    gbaikie: it is possible to get water from clouds here on Earth (or, rather, from fog, which is ground level clouds), and this may be practical in certain special situations.

    Yeah something like that could work on Venus.
    One also anchor the net against fog/clouds which could moving fast relative to it.
    So anchor in atmosphere lower and with lower global wind speeds. Or have something like sailboat which changes in elevation and thereby is moving faster than the clouds- or sort of tack across and slower moving cloud.
    Though another thing is knowing where and when on Venus one has the most acid raining and have something with large enough area which can collect the “rain” – that’s like a common practice to collect rainwater and storing it in cisterns. Though on Venus one could collect rain at stationary location relative to the Venus surface or the collection system could be mobile and be sort of hunting and gathering the acid which may also process the acid into water [and sulfur and hydrogen] or unload the acid at some facility which does this.

  22. Paul451 says:

    “but more likely will have the structure of “It’s *not* crawling with the bureaucrats of a species of large obstreperously violent primates”. People continually underestimate that as a motivation.”

    You aren’t going to be a rugged individualist in a Venusian floating city. You break the rules, Everyone Will Die. So if you are the sort of person who they see breaking rules, they will invite you take leave… Pick any direction, it’s all downhill.

    Any space colony is going to be like that, completely unlike the American experience. North America is a uniquely fertile and forgiving land; the “softest” land in the world. Softer even than Africa, and we freakin’ evolved to live there. Inexperienced, urban-raised family groups could carve out a homestead with just a wagon-load of supplies. More experienced people could survive for unlimited times on their own, starting with a few iron tools and their wits. But there’s nowhere else like that.

    I grew up reading Heinlein, I loved the idea of the rock-hound with his sliderule and memorised log tables making his future out amongst the asteroids. But it’s not how or why space will be settled. Space colonies can and will never be libertarian fantasies.

  23. gbaikie says:

    “but more likely will have the structure of “It’s *not* crawling with the bureaucrats of a species of large obstreperously violent primates”. People continually underestimate that as a motivation.”

    You aren’t going to be a rugged individualist in a Venusian floating city. You break the rules, Everyone Will Die. So if you are the sort of person who they see breaking rules, they will invite you take leave… Pick any direction, it’s all downhill.**

    I tend to agree, but a rugged individualist can visit a Venusian floating city. And that they do, could a factor of why the city exists.
    Also a floating city might establish property rights- in reference to the location of a city at any given time.

    **Any space colony is going to be like that, completely unlike the American experience. North America is a uniquely fertile and forgiving land; the “softest” land in the world. Softer even than Africa, and we freakin’ evolved to live there. **

    Hmm, any space colony would be like that. Well I would say that depends upon the cost of tunneling and/or nature underground caves. And spaceships can be like the American car experience- individual can buy them, and not like a train or bus.

    As for “softest land” I don’t think so. Cheap land which is farmable, yes. But no one regarded the wilds of the New World as soft. Whereas minus any cannibals, the tropical islands were considered soft and idealistic.

  24. gbaikie says:

    ***Well I would say that depends upon the cost of tunneling and/or nature underground caves. ***
    I would also add that also depends on how expensive water is on Mars. So homestead is price of 100 meter cube of water.

  25. eightplanets says:

    “You break the rules, Everyone Will Die.”

    I don’t see why. Dependence on infrastructure to survive doesn’t inherently lead to totalitarianism, since all modern cities are absolutely infrastructure-dependent to survive (food transport, water transport, etc.) Human interactions involved in living close together are going to be more socially restrictive than survival needs.

    Now, if it were just barely possible to make a closed ecosystem work, yeah people would be living on the edge and little problems could have lethal consequences.

    But I don’t think that is the case. I think the first time someone tries to do it sensibly (IE without the stupid Biosphere 2 mistakes) it will prove to be quite simple compared to, say, designing an orbit-capable rocket.

  26. The nearest equivalent to a Venus floating city is a ship. Sailors who misbehaved aboard sailing ships were whipped. Repeat it and the captain was likely to put you ashore on the nearest desert island.

  27. Peterh says:

    Rationally, the habitat should be designed to endure a certain amount of juvenile foolishness. It should not be easy to threaten depressurization of the habitat by leaving doors open or breaking a window. But misbehave in a way that threatens to get people killed, expect deadly force if needed to stop you.

  28. eightplanets says:

    >>The nearest equivalent to a Venus floating city is a ship

    I disagree, at least if we are talking about a city/colony and not just a station/research outpost.

    A ship is run for a particular mission, it is not a permanent home, and generally has few people in a pretty small space (aircraft carriers have large crews but are socially constrained because they are military).

    A Venus floating city (or an O’Neill colony) would be more like an Earth city than an Earth ship… it would just be a city where hardly anyone goes outside the city.

    Also, if we’re talking a floating *city* and not just a research outpost, it’s going to be large.

    >>Rationally, the habitat should be designed to endure a certain amount of juvenile foolishness. It should not be easy to threaten depressurization of the habitat by leaving doors open or breaking a window

    Certainly… and I think this actually would be pretty easy to set up.

    An O’Neill colony would probably have a very tough ‘outer shell’ to survive impacts and airlocks would be very carefully designed. (And probably used rather rarely.)

    A Venus floating city would be a lot lighter structure since it has to float, but there’s no depressurization, just a slow leak, so there is time to fix things.

  29. Paul451 says:

    “Dependence on infrastructure to survive doesn’t inherently lead to totalitarianism”

    Not-libertarian != Totalitarian

    Aside: The issue isn’t just depressurisation (particularly for a Venus colony where there’s minimal pressure difference.) In a closed ecology, you can’t vent waste. A single source of pollution contaminates your entire air-supply. A single introduced pest destroys your biological life-support system. A single lazy chemical disposal into the waste-water system contaminates the entire system. And probably ten thousand other points of failure.

    IMO, a space colony, even a city-sized colony, is going to be more like an aircraft than a ship.

  30. > IMO, a space colony, even a city-sized colony, is going to be more like an aircraft than a ship.

    I get the point but we do not live on aircraft.

  31. Paul451 says:

    That’s my point, space colonies are going to be more freedom-intrusive than even Earthly cities. The Heinlein-esque mythology we have about about “homesteading”, and hence Tom’s comment about “getting away from government” being a motivation for space colonisation, misses the point.

  32. Tom Billings says:

    Paul, you completely misconstrued my comment. I *never* said that solar System settlement would be an individualist idyll. What I thought I *did* say is that bureaucrats organized in hierarchies destructive of industrial freedoms of action very plainly can be escaped from, once alternatives are available. That a colony in the atmosphere of Venus is such a possible alternative was, I thought, rather obvious.

    Organized life with other people in an industrial environment does *not* always require the extremes of hierarchy that bureaucrats and their enabling institutions in academia favor. Human beings organize themselves in networks all the time, and the more those are emphasized, the more productive the society usually is. The way to keep controlling hierarchies, and the bureaucrats that are their agents, from exerting agency costs that destroy industrial freedoms of action, is to make alternatives available that can be accessed by enough people in society that their exemplum cannot be ignored. When enough people leave, even the bureaucrats start hearing the echoes sounding through empty halls, malls, streets and stalls. When the relatively greater degrees of industrial freedoms elsewhere lead, as always, to greater wealth, the point will be sharpened about change here.

    It is this means of negative feedback on bureaucracies that will provide the first social benefit of settling the Solar System for human society here on Earth. It will be resisted. As early as 1965 I was being told by classmates expressing early SJW attitudes that people like me should not be *allowed* to leave the Earth, interestingly enough, at just about the same time and for the same reasons as the USSR was saying that Jews could not emigrate, because the State hierarchy had already spent so much on their education. I expect that will not be the last such excuse.

    With the basic Carbon resource so readily available in Venus’ atmosphere, practically everything that can be will end up being made from graphene, diamond, Q-carbon and other Carbon allotropes. This ability will allow multiple habitats to be built floating through the clouds. Indeed, I expect that many will start with a discontented group leaving an initial habitat in their own floating vehicle constructed from the CO2 surrounding them, and carrying the devices that built it, to build more habitat structure even as they sail forth from the first habitat’s airlock into the sunset.

    Again and again, humans build a hierarchy to stabilize what they want preserved, and then end up having to leave it behind, when it seeks to stabilize what the hierarchs want to preserve, instead of the wealth and freedom of the populace. Networks, by contrast, preserve growth through avoiding the restraints of hierarchy, which is why hierarchs regard them as a necessary evil, at best, and a plague on all right-thinking members of the hierarchy at worst.

  33. James Walker says:

    Bureaucracy will be a nightmare for early space colonisation. So far people have been comparing to the American midwest, I’ll be thinking more of the Australian situation.

    All colonies will run into what we call “The Tyranny of Distance”. The more remote a region, the greater the number of *ways* in which it isolated. Sure, your colony has a couple of minutes delay for radio communications – meh. But the guy on the other end of the radio hasn’t lived the colonist’s life. The turn around time means that the experiences of a returning colonist are, on arrival, already *years* out of date. Politicians have never visited the colony. Journalists have never visited the colony. Businessmen may once in their lifetimes. The day to day problems of the colony are not discussed on Earth, or when they are, in a completely ignorant fashion. When shown in any form of media, the colony is completely misunderstood. No one has seen a painting from the colony, dealt with the mysterious new illnesses that come with a new environment. No one on Earth has attended a colonist’s funeral: unless they’ve returned home before dying.

    On the flipside, *Earth* will be changing faster than the colony, as technology etc develops and is adapted for local needs. The colonists will also have an outmoded view of Earth.

    To put this in perspective, during the 19thC Britain hosted art exhibitions dedicated to the Australian landscape…and Australian painters had their painting refused for ‘not understanding the Australian landscape’! The early paintings by sailors and convicts had created a completely inaccurate image of the continent, and this still hasn’t been completely erased.

    And this makes the bureaucracies that Tom Billings mentions, *worse*. Civil servants *want* to do a good job, but are limited by their knowledge. A bureaucrat in Canberra is physically as far from an Aboriginal community in the Top End as London is from Turkey – but mentally much, much further away. It is no accident that it is large nations, Australia, the USA, Russia, are famed for hating bureaucracies, and tiny countries such as Denmark famed for bureaucracies that work.

    So the snafus of paperwork for interplanetary colonies? They are literally inconceivable: and will happen because even the people living through them will not be able to comprehend them.

  34. James Walker says:

    “I grew up reading Heinlein, I loved the idea of the rock-hound with his sliderule and memorised log tables making his future out amongst the asteroids. But it’s not how or why space will be settled. ”

    A primary advantage of space is the wide variety of sites available. Venus? Yes, colonies will just be scientific bases writ large.
    But how about Mimas? A ball of ice, studded with minerals: ice providing unlimited water and air, plus an easily crafted building material, and minerals to prospect for. With 50+ other moons plus Saturn itself to trade with. That would seem like an ideal setting for small prospecting groups or individuals to roam across.

    (Apologies for double post).

  35. Peterh says:

    James Walker, you give good reasons why a colony should be largely self governed.

    Popular media on Earth, while sure to corrupt the portrayal of life in the colony, doesn’t do so well here on Earth outside of their narrow geographical (or ideological) perspective. For both remote regions on Earth and the colony the fix seems to be to bypass the mass media. I, in North America, routinely watch short videos from a guy in New Zealand offering perspectives the major media would never consider. A system for interplanetary exchange of media should be possible.

    While building technology at the colony might lag some, the information behind the technology should get there almost as fast as it can circulate around the Earth. On the other hand, if the colony can escape or evade foolhardy control from Earth they may adopt technologies that fit their needs faster than on Earth.

  36. Povel Vieregg says:

    I thought I’d add my two cents about the politics and types of society that a Venus colony would be. A lot of people here related to the American experience, but I think there are many other cultural experiences to draw from to say something about this.

    As a Norwegian, I also come from a country which had its own flavor of rugged individualism. Norwegians also settled Iceland and went on many polar expeditions. All cases which involved extreme climates and environments.

    I personally think people have a tendency to overstate the influence of nature on the culture of a people. For instance the dutch as surprisingly similar to Norwegians in ways of thinking and organizing society, yet their country could be no more different from Norway. Shared germanic roots and similarities in way of life (both maritime nations) probably led to many similarities.

    Americans should not forget that a large part of their national character derives from the British and Irish.

    I don’t think it follows that great dependency on each other leads to a totalitarian style regime. I think individualism exists in different forms than just the anglo-saxon style libertarianism. The Vikings were quite democratic minded, or perhaps a better description would be that they were used to seeking and making compromises and find consensus. That was a natural result of weak central power. The dutch are similar. Many lived historically in polders (farm land surrounded by dikes keeping the sea out). If anyone living in the polder failed to maintain their part of the dike, it would spell disaster for everybody.

    Neither case led to totalitarianism. Quite the opposite, both Norway and the Netherlands are very consensus oriented democracies. You see similar on Iceland which also lived through pretty rough times when it got settled with a lot of bloody conflicts. That kind of hardship teach people that there is no alternative but to cooperate.

    If you read about the polar expeditions by the British and Norwegians, you’ll see very big difference in the approach and culture involved. The British had strict power hierarchies, were commoners and officers were clearly separated. Norwegians had much flatter hierarchies, and was more based on cooperation and consensus that some top leader acting as dictator.

    You can see this among any primitive people. Look at Inuits e.g. who live under harsh climates. These groups don’t function as totalitarian regimes. They are not fully democratic either, but there are more marked by cooperation and consensus than by master-servant relationships.

    I think likewise a Venus culture will develop with a basis in the culture of the original inhabitants. But I do think that over time it will develop in the direction of Dutch/Norwegian experience. Nobody will have a natural power base to just be a dictatorial ruler. There will be too strong interdependency among people for anybody to assume too much power. You will have to listen to what everybody says.

    I don’t think you can necessarily classify such societies as we do countries today, because they will be much smaller and will thus be based far more on informal structures as we see in smaller human societies.

    When societies are smaller they can function primarily on trust. As societies get much larger and you can’t know everybody in it or trust them, one will have to rely much more on formal structures and rules.

  37. Jonathan Goff Jonathan Goff says:


    Thanks for the thoughtful comment! Would you mind if I turned it into a top-level post? I’m not sure how many people actually still read comments from posts this far back, and I wouldn’t want it to get lost in the noise. One thought though is that the best way to make sure space settlements learn from Norwegian/Dutch and related cultures is for people from those cultures to be involved in the pioneering process. 🙂


  38. James Walker says:

    Peterh – agreed that self-government would be ideal, but that requires a degree of economic independence that colonies are unlikely to have for decades. Also, consider that the US colonies had their own legislative bodies long before the American Revolution, but this did not resolve their problems with the UK.

    Povel – very much agree; the differences physically between vast, dry and flat Australia compared to small, wet mountainous New Zealand are another example of culture trumping geography.
    On the flip side, Switzerland, Afghanistan and Tibet are all mountainous nations surrounded by major powers, but could not be more different.

  39. James Walker says:

    John Schilling says:
    “Shouldn’t there be a question or two about the motive and economic viability of such a settlement? If it is possible to survive 50km or so above the Venusian surface but there’s nothing useful to do there that couldn’t be done just as well somewhere else”

    Ok, so Venus is distant, but with size, gravity etc equivalent to that of Earth. Sadly the similarities to Earth will for the mot part reduce economic possibilities; anything you can do on Venus you’ll be able to do more cheaply on Earth.

    one of the primary advantages of colonizing space is that it gives us access to a limitless ‘clean room’. I suspect that most colonists will leave Earth because their immune system is compromised; whether too weak, too strong (causing chronic fatigue), misguided (potentially lethal allergies) or cancerous (or any other autoimmune disease), being in an environment where they don’t need an immune system would saves their lives, and make those lives of much higher quality.
    – but, it’s likely that some of those will not cope well with living in space. Our bodies have evolved to live on a planet; and unlike astronauts, the colonists I’m suggesting will already have health problems so their overloaded bodies are likely to cope badly to the changes.
    So if it isn’t safe to return to Earth due to no immune system, but remaining in microgravity isn’t an option: the next best options are artificial gravity and the lower but natural gravity of the Moon. *if* neither solution is sufficient, then Venus starts to look tempting.
    That of course assumes that natural and artificial gravity affect the body differently – a very big if. The only reason I can think for this is the much higher change in gravity within the body caused by the smaller size of an O’Neill colony.
    Sadly, if Venus is the end of the line on a list of destinations that people are travelling to for health reasons, many people heading there in desperation are going to die when it proves that Venus can’t help them. (There’ll also be a lot of people killed by returning to a full 1G via the much higher G of entry). So Venus may end up with a large hospice industry: and find that the acidic atmosphere makes for practical ‘air burials’. (Hmm, the Zoroastrians and Tibetans may be interested if their vultures die out/can’t cope with the chemicals in modern bodies).

    On a happier but very minor note: some semi-precious stones are unique not because of what they are made of but *how* they are formed; the unique atmosphere of Venus may polish materials in a fashion that creates never before seen gemstones. These would be primarily valuable due to their scarcity.

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