Meet Zephyr: The Windsailing Rover NASA May Use to Explore Venus

Rollerskating rovers to be considered for runs on Saturn's rings.

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Because Venus, ranging from 24 to 162 million miles from Earth, is as close as any of us really want to get to a nightmarish hellscape, I suppose it makes sense that we haven’t yet figured out a way to explore its surface. But that may soon change: NASA is considering sending a rover to the surface of the planet by making that rover a windsailer.

While this sounds a bit like the plot of a Disney Channel movie on acid (surfing, snowboarding– windsailing isn’t that far off), it’s the best idea thus far about how to explore Venus– and it would still be hard to pull off. Venus’ surface temperature is 450 degrees Celsius, an environment that generally means a death knell for electronic equipment. No attempts have even been made to land on Venus for about 30 years, and that last attempt was by the Soviets, so…

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Zephyr, as the hypothetical rover has been dubbed, would only likely sail 15 minutes a day for a month, then do most of its analysis on the ground. It would only need two moving parts, one for setting the sail and one for setting the steering position, and wouldn’t require any power to drive, but would use the heat and high wind power (while the wind speeds are low, the pressure, which is 92 times that of Earth, make them a powerful force) to move about the planet.

Geoffrey Landis, of Glenn Research Center, has said that such an idea is definitely possible, provided the rover can move on such low power levels. His other ideas for exploring Venus include solar powered airplanes and floating cities. Okay, so that second one is his plan for colonizing it, but all the best geniuses tend to seem a little bit crazy.

(via NASA via UniverseToday, Space.com, images via WikimediaNASA)

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