It's one of the most famous environments in all of Star Wars: Cloud City. That scene where we first meet Lando with the sunset in the background is a truly epic science fiction moment! If there's one place in that galaxy far, far away I'd like to visit, it's Cloud City.
Now NASA is making plans to build its own floating colony much closer: on Venus. We typically think of the planet Venus as an uninhabitable greenhouse wasteland complete with sulfuric acid storms and crushing atmospheric pressure. That's all true, but above the clouds of deadly acid, it's actually a balmy, earth-like planet.
In fact, Venus is often called our sister planet. It has a similar size and gravity, and even at altitude, the atmosphere is sufficient to shield humans from harmful solar radiation. It's also much, much closer than Mars, which makes travel there far more feasible.
That's why NASA's proposed floating cloud base is such an exciting idea. Trying to land a spacecraft on the surface is ridiculously hard. But an airbase could hang permanently above and allow humans and robots to study the unique atmosphere in relative safety.
The project is called HAVOC, which stands for High Altitude Venus Operational Concept. CNN reports:
The HAVOC model involves placing the astronauts inside an 'aeroshell' that would enter the atmosphere at 4,500 miles per hour. Decelerating during its descent to just 450 meters per second and then deploying a parachute, the shell would fall away to reveal a folded airship. Robotic arms would unfurl the blimp which would be inflated with helium to allow the airship to float 30 miles above the planet's fiery surface.
This is what the end result would look like:
At this time, the mission is just a concept, and NASA has no plans to fund it. But one day, a Venus airbase could allow astronauts to settle there permanently. Here's hoping! Maybe we can even get a lovable scoundrel to administrate the facility: is Lando Calrissian available?