Dr. Geoffrey Landis is a research scientist here at Glenn Research Center who has a broad range of experience. He has worked on various Mars rover projects, including Opportunity, and is also a decorated and prolific hard science fiction writer. He is also an expert in the planet Venus, which was the topic of the talk on Thursday night.
The talk began with an introduction to the general physical characteristics of the planet sometimes called Earth’s twin, including hellish conditions of the surface of Venus, and a historical background of pre-exploration hypotheses of Venus as a tropical planet (views which were dashed once it was realized that Venus was more like the inside of an oven on autoclean). An overview of the various unmanned missions (especially the Soviet Venera landers) to the planet was given, which led to the 21st century mission concepts that Dr. Landis and colleagues have proposed, including a Venus solar airplane, a long-lived refrigerated rover, and a network of sensors culminating in the latest concept of a land sailing rover that would be propelled by the winds of Venus, exploiting the dense atmosphere and remarkably flat surface of Venus. This led to more speculative concepts about the habitability (for humans) of the mid-atmosphere of Venus, where the temperature and pressure is closer to that of Earth than anywhere else in the solar system (and where, fortunately, even breathable air acts as a lifting gas in the dense carbon dioxide). It was an enjoyable talk that showed Dr. Landis’ unique mix of expert scientific knowledge, historical context, and his colorful imagination.