In an effort to learn how their technology will react to the hellish surface conditions on Venus, NASA engineers will put together a 12-ton toxic oven in Cleveland at the NASA Glenn Research Center. It will be operational in May 2012, and scorch anything that is put in it at 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, as well as crush it at nearly 100 atmospheres, then choke it with carbon dioxide, sulfuric acid, and other noxious fumes.
These conditions should emulate what the surface of Venus is actually like. The planet used to be like Earth, and it’s suffocated by greenhouse gases. Robert Dyson is the leader of the Extreme Environment Test Chamber and says that the problem with Venus-bound spacecraft is that they’ll melt inside an hour or two when they arrive. In order for the next generation of rovers to survive, they’ll need to be tested in a chamber large enough. Hence the reason for the chamber and it’s the first of its kind.
Since scientists have no idea how long materials will survive on the corrosive surface, the chamber will provide valuable data on what to use for the ships and robots. Only 10 spacecraft have reached Venus’ surface. Of those, 9 were Soviet landers. The only American mission was launched in 1978. Since the Soviet launched Venera 13 last responded in 1984, scientists have considered Venus too hostile for a $1 billion probe.
However, if engineers can come up with better cooling and electricity-producing technology, Venus surface missions might be a go. The chamber has to be covered in a heavy blanket so that it doesn’t melt anything else around it. While the chamber was conceived to simulate the surface conditions of Venus, operators will be able to simulate other conditions, like Mars, Jupiter and its moons, Ganymede, Titan, and Europa.