ONWARD TO VENUS
The lunar missions of Apollo are well chronicled. But there were extensive plans for follow-on missions, of which only 1973’s Skylab and 1975’s Apollo-Soyuz survived. Starting in the mid-1960s the Apollo Applications Program dreamed up various ways of using Apollo hardware after the lunar landing. These included Apollo-derived space stations, lunar outposts, and a Mars flyby (See the July 2019 issue).
Of these mission plans, perhaps the most inspired was a crewed flyby of Venus. The Saturn V had the power to launch the spacecraft toward Venus, the Apollo capsule would soon be battle-tested via the lunar flights, and the upper stage of the Saturn rocket – the S-IVB stage – could be converted into a habitat for the Venus-bound explorers. The round trip to the planet and back would have taken just over a year, with the crew living in quarters about the size of a small apartment. While their loop past Venus would only last a few hours, they would drop various probes into the planet’s atmosphere and conduct astronomy en route from a large telescope mounted on the S-IVB stage.
In the end, the Apollo Applications Program’s budget was cut along with the rest of the post-Apollo 17 lunar flights, dooming the more exotic mission plans. But had it been attempted, Apollo’s journey to Venus would have been an amazing – if dangerous – journey.
NASA planned to convert the upper stage of a Saturn V rocket to hold Venus-bound astronauts