Feature

Tougher than hell

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Science  24 Nov 2017:
Vol. 358, Issue 6366, pp. 984-989
DOI: 10.1126/science.358.6366.984

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Summary

Venus is closest in size and composition to Earth. It's also our nearest neighbor. Yet for decades it has remained veiled. NASA hasn't sent a mission there since 1989, and although Europe and Japan have sent orbiters there more recently, their investigations have stopped largely at the top of the planet's thick sulfur clouds. No craft has touched down on the surface since 1985, when the Soviet Union sent the last in a series of Venus landers, and for good reason: At temperatures of 460°C and pressures of 90 bars, the spacecraft never survived more than a couple of hours. Now, researchers at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, are developing computer chips, based on silicon carbide, that can handle the extreme environment. The chips could enable landers to survive on the surface for weeks instead of hours. By early next decade NASA may be able to land long-lived robots that could measure wind, temperature, chemistry, pressure, and seismic waves—data that could help decipher whether Venus's interior is still geologically alive.