Venus on Just $5 a Day

Well, not quite — but would you believe getting a manned science mission to Venus and back, using modified Apollo hardware? Read:

he Command Module was far too cramped for a mission of this duration. Conveniently, a mission to Venus had no use for a Lunar Module, so this vehicle was scrapped and replaced with the larger Environmental Support Module (ESM). This would provide life support and environmental control for the duration of the mission and serve as the main experimental bay where the crew would work. But the ESM didn’t launch docked with the CSM; the astronauts would have to join the two modules in flight. Doing so mimicked the way Apollo astronauts captured the LM on their way to the Moon. Once on their way to Venus, the crew would turn the CSM around and pull the ESM out of its launch casing.

The final module of the Apollo-Venus stack was the SIV-B (pronounced “S-4-B”). This was the upper stage of the Saturn V, and its main function was to propel the spacecraft out of Earth orbit and off toward Venus. While Apollo crews jettisoned this spent rocket stage once they were on their way to the Moon, a crew going to Venus would keep this stage attached, refurbishing it en route into a habitat module, their primary living and recreational space. Everything they would need for this extensive refitting would be stored in the ESM. The refurbished SIV-B would also be the main source of power for the mission. Being the largest module, solar panels arranged on the outside would gather enough sunlight to power all three modules throughout the mission.

The SIV-B was eventually repurposed into Skylab.

But why swing by one planet when you can swing by two? That’s the mission Bellcomm proposed:

NASA could have a crew visit Venus first and use the momentum gained from that flyby to propel themselves to Mars. It was the same basic approach to navigation that the Voyager spacecraft followed in the 1970s.

Bellcomm researchers found that Venus and Mars align often, presenting ample opportunities for a dual planet flyby mission. Between 1978 and 1986, there were five favorable launch windows for a Venus-Mars mission. Some dates even offered the potential for the crew to swing by Venus a second time on their way back to Earth, turning the dual planet flyby mission into a triple planet flyby.

We really did use to dream — and dare — big.