Science of Star Wars: Cloud City

One of the more fantastical locations in the Star Wars Saga is Cloud City – the floating city above Bespin seen in The Empire Strikes Back.  It’s primarily a tibanna gas mining colony that is small enough to fall under the Empire’s radar.  When we first see it, it seems magical.  It’s just floating among the clouds, lit by the the nearby star.  It seems like a lovely place (though it’s leadership is a tad questionable).

Cloud City needn’t necessarily be science fiction.  The NASA Systems Analysis  and Concept Directive (SACD) has devised a concept called HAVOC (High Altitude Venus Operational Concept) that outlines a manned mission to, of all places, Venus.

Venus is a more interesting planet than Mars in many ways.  It is nearly the same size as the earth and is also in our solar system’s habitable zone – the region where liquid water can exist.  It’s mass is more than 80% of Earths while Mars’ is only about 10%.


Airships above Venus. Image Copyright NASA SACD


The clouds above Venus, however, are actually pretty mild.  In the upper atmosphere, there should be similar conditions to what you find on Earth.  SACD’s concept

Venus, however, is very inhospitable (hence, the poor marketing).  A run-away greenhouse effect has left the surface of the planet incredibly hot – well over 800 degrees F.  To-date, only one or two Russian satellites have made it to the surface, though they only survived for a few minutes.

There are technical challenges to be sure.  There’s a lot of sulfuric acid in those clouds and there’s a lot more solar radiation than we get on earth.  But that’s what these folks at NASA are good at figuring out. The video below illustrates how it might work.

Why go to Venus?  Other than for scientific nourishment, there may be gold in them thar hills.  And frankly, if we could figure out how to make Venus livable again, it wouldn’t be a bad vacation spot.