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News Link • Space Travel and Exploration

Armed with tough computer chips, scientists are ready to return to the hell of Venus

• http://www.sciencemag.org, By Paul Voosen

NASA hasn't sent a mission there since 1989; more recent European and Japanese orbiters have made halting progress that stops largely at the planet's thick sulfur clouds. No craft has touched down since 1985, when the last of a series of advanced Soviet landers clad in armored pressure vessels endured a couple hours before succumbing to the deep-ocean pressure and furnacelike temperature of the planet's surface. The baleful conditions and lack of funding have made Venus, Earth's closest neighbor, feel more distant than ever. That is, except here.

In September, Phil Neudeck, an electrical engineer at NASA's Glenn Research Center, a complex abutting the main airport in this Rust Belt city, sat watching purple and turquoise waveforms on a display. It was his window into the Venus next door. Behind sealed doors stood a 14-ton stainless steel tank, its massive ports sealed to hold pressures so high that the screws to secure its nuts have their own nuts. For 33 days, the Glenn Extreme Environments Rig (GEER) had run nonstop, simulating an atmosphere at 460°C and flooded with carbon dioxide at pressures that render it supercritical, both liquid and gas. Inside sat two microchips, pulsing with metronomic accuracy. Neudeck was running a clock on Venus, and it was keeping perfect time.

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