But, as you’ll have figured, visiting Venus isn’t easy. Fortunately, as well as a Nasa scientist, Landis is also a respected science fiction writer – a fearsome combination that allows him to think big thoughts about future mission concepts. He’s even worked on plans to send humans.
“We’ve looked at an interesting new way of exploring Venus,” he tells me. “Our concept is to put the humans into a habitat that orbits the planet and they operate rovers on the surface via tele-robotics.” By immersing these human operators in a high-definition virtual reality on board an orbiting spaceship, Landis reckons it “would be just like being there.”
This idea has major advantages over the current rovers used to explore Mars. With a time delay of up to 20 minutes each way, controlling any rover usually involves transmitting commands from Earth and letting the rover get on with it. “If you could be there and adapt to what happens when it happens, then you could be much more interesting science,” Landis explains. If, for example, you spotted an interesting feature, you could head straight there to examine it – just as the Apollo astronauts were able to on the Moon.
If you think that’s ambitious, then how about... a human colony on Venus? It’s not as crazy as it first sounds. About 50km (31 miles) above the planet’s surface the atmospheric composition and pressure become very Earth-like. Landis envisages balloons filled with a breathable mixture of nitrogen and oxygen. Because of the atmospheric density on Venus, these gases would act as a lifting gas allowing the balloon to float through the clouds. “You could fill them up and walk around inside the envelope of these balloons.”
With power from solar arrays, Landis calculates that these cloud bases could be largely self-sufficient. “In my vision you could make enormous balloons – perhaps a kilometre in diameter. It’d be like being outdoors inside this balloon. You could put whole cities in the clouds of Venus in this very Earth-like environment!”
Okay, so none of this is going to happen any time soon, but it’s worth contemplating the possibilities. Imagine what life would be like living in a city in the clouds adrift in the atmosphere of an alien world. Rather than distant exoplanets, could Venus be the real Earth 2.0?
So on 5 and 6 June, as that little black dot makes its way across the face of the Sun (and I want to emphasise again, please don’t look directly at the Sun) consider what a remarkable place our twin is. Not evil, just misunderstood.