The spacecraft orbited the planet. It had been doing so for around 3 hours already. I was lucky enough to be one of the people going down to the surface. Joel Mänd, our lovely crewmate, was the one who had to stay in orbit.
“You all owe me,” he said.
We all laughed, including him, and went about what we were doing. The time came to begin landing, and I climbed into the Eosphorus Venusian Module (EVM) with the other two who would be going with me. Eosphorus was the name of our mission, named after some Greek deity. That’s how it usually went, even as the centuries went by.
The two crewmates I would be going with were Siobhan Lee and Bruno Morales. Siobhan had been on a Mars expedition in the past, but Bruno and I were new to the world of space exploration.
After we got settled in, the EVM separated from the rest of the spacecraft and began its descent. It was estimated that it would take around an hour to land.
“What do you think will be done there?” Siobhan asked.
Bruno shrugged. “Rocks, probably,” he said.
“Well I figured that much out.”
I turned as much as I could to look out the window behind me. The planet looked orange to me, and very rocky. Bruno’s hypothesis was correct. I didn’t care as much about the rocks, though.
Time passed as it tends to do, and the planet approached. Rather, we were approaching fast. Before I knew it, the landing gear extended.
The EVM touched down at an altitude of about 11 kilometers above the surface of Venus. The thick clouds lay below the mountain peak we landed on. It was the strangest thing, really. Within the past 150 years, the atmosphere of Venus changed dramatically. The sulfur clouds lowered and thinned, as the lower altitudes began to change their pressure. Before then, the altitude at which the atmospheric pressure was most similar to Earth was at 50 kilometers, but there was no actual land there, and the temperature was often around 350 K… basically very hot and gross. Now, while it was still very hot and gross, it was more habitable with the correct equipment. The climate and atmosphere of Venus had changed before, but that was billions of years ago and the changes took billions of years. The recent Eosphorus missions hoped to gain more insight into what exactly is going on.
Skadi Mons stood tall, the tallest mountain on Venus. The three of us crawled out of the lander. The hot air hit us immediately. Our suits protected us from the worst of it, but I still felt a temperature increase. We had around 5 hours to poke around and record our findings before returning to the EVM.
“How many rock samples should I pick up?” Siobhan asked.
“I don’t think it matters,” Bruno replied.
The EVM could hold a lot of weight, so I didn’t think it was of much concern. We had plenty of Venusian rocks already in the labs on Earth. Our mission had a purpose that concerned me more.
75ish years ago, microbes were found on Mars—Rejoice, David Bowie! Your question had been answered, although about a century too late. This discovery then brought up the question, is there life on Venus? At that time, the atmosphere had conditions similar to Earth around 35 kilometers above the surface of the planet. The issue was that there was not any land at that altitude. Below those sulfur clouds was too dangerous to land. Now, just 11 kilometers above the surface, we had a small patch of mountain to land on, but it was still too hot for any human to plausibly live on. I think if we did find any sort of organism here, it would have to be something like the Deinococcus radiodurans. Extremophiles seem like the only plausible option here.
Siobhan and Bruno waved me over to where they were standing.
“Look at this cool rock!” Siobhan held one up. She traced her finger along sedimentary lines. I wasn’t a geologist like her, but I found it interesting. I gave a nod. She placed it into the EVM and we moved on.
“How’s the visibility?” A voice in my headphones said. Probably mission control.
“About 1 kilometer, I’d guess,” Bruno replied. He was much better at guessing distances than I was. Being more familiar with the units probably helped.
We didn’t have much area above the clouds to explore, but it was more than enough to fill 5 hours. Those clouds were only projected to move maybe a kilometer lower, if that, so later missions likely weren’t going to be as exciting.
Siobhan picked up some more loose rocks. This mission must have been a dream come true for her. I took a photo of her holding one of them up.
Bruno set up equipment to record information about the atmosphere, such as pressure and element concentration. Probes had been sent down to Venus before for this purpose, such as Venera 4 from 1967, Akatsuki from the 2010s, and Thebes 5 from 2101, but much had changed since then. What we at least thought we knew was changing fast. I took some pictures of him as well.
I had things to do now other than photography, however. I, just lucky enough to be chosen, was tasked with collecting dirt samples. This may seem menial, but there is a reason for this. The way microbes were found on Mars was in inconspicuous dirt samples. Would life on Venus, if it did exist, be found in the same way? I was skeptical, but it was always a possibility.
I attached my camera to my suit to free my hands. I extended my surface sampler and scoop to take some dirt. Even as technology changed, tools like the one I was using didn’t change much. They resembled the tools used in the Apollo missions of yesteryear. Sometimes simple is best.
I scooped some dirt into the sample container. I described it to Mission Control. I did that some more times. Maybe Siobhan would have more fun with this.
“Hey, Siobhan!” I waved. Siobhan awkwardly turned around. “Want to do something for me?” I asked.
“I am not scooping dirt for you,” she replied.
“But it is so much fun,” I said with overexaggerated enthusiasm.
“Or you could actually do the job taxpayers spent so much for,” she turned back around.
I laughed a little and continued scooping. I thought about how I, we, were actually here, on Venus, something unthinkable centuries ago. We were not the first, as Eosphorus 2 and Waresa-5 came before us, but it was still so surreal. It was not at all glamorous all the time, but I didn’t mind. I WAS SCOOPING DIRT ON VENUS. TAKE THAT!
I collected what I thought was enough and placed it beside the EVM to take inside later. There was already a pile of rocks there as well.
I found Bruno fumbling with some sort of controller. He had all sorts of instruments set up, which were to be there indefinitely.
“Do you need any help?” I asked.
“Uh, I suppose it wouldn’t hurt. Here,” he pointed to some pieces on the ground.
As I approached, the wind started to kick up dirt. I didn’t think much of it, but it got worse. Larger pieces of dirt made plinking noises against my helmet.
“Bruno?!” I called out. Visibility had gone from 1 kilometer to maybe 1 foot in about half a minute. Winds like this were usually seen higher up in the atmosphere, not on the surface.
“Bruno? Are you OK?” I called again.
“Oh, yes,” his muffled voice replied, “this will give very interesting data.”
Oh my god. They were all a bunch of NERDSSS!! I suppose you had to be to get a job at any space agency, though.
I had a more pressing problem at the moment. I couldn’t see more than a few inches in front of me, and I didn’t know when the winds would calm down, if they ever would.
“The anemometer is going crazy!” Bruno said with joy. I tried to remember which thing that was for… wind?
“Siobhan?” I turned around. I hadn’t heard from her for a while. I took a step, but then took it back. I shouldn’t wander away from Bruno and get lost, but I wanted to make sure Siobhan was OK too.
“Have you seen her?” I asked Bruno.
“I think I saw her near the EVM. She should be fine,” he replied. He sounded more unsure than he let on.
There was nothing I could do. I took an empty sample bag I had and held it up to catch the dirt and debris. I may as well take the opportunity.
The storm calmed minutes later. My sample bag had weird chunks of dirt that looked different from what I had collected earlier. Particles floated stagnant in the air still, but we had way higher visibility now.
“We just experienced a sandstorm of sorts lasting about 15 minutes,” Bruno said, probably to the people at mission control.
I took out one of my last sample bags and scooped up the newly uncovered ground. It looked similar to the topsoil, but maybe there were differences that weren’t so easily seen.
“Do you still need help?” I asked Bruno, remembering why I came there in the first place.
“I think I’ve got it. You should go find Siobhan.”
I took a photo of Bruno’s meteorological instruments, as well as a photo of him posing in front of them, before turning away. I found Siobhan huddled by the EVM.
“Are you OK?” I noticed she had a pile of rocks about the height of her.
“Well, that wasn’t ideal,” she said, “but I’m still here. Did you find Bruno?”
“Yeah, I was around him when the storm happened. I guess it’ll give some insights into Venusian weather patterns.”
“How much time do we have left here?” I then asked.
She pondered for a moment. “An hour?”
“Well, let’s get going then.”
We made our way back into the EVM. Our time outside was done, but we still had work to do. Bruno analyzed data gathered from his meteorological instruments and Siobhan started breaking open some rocks. I found a surface to dump my dirt onto. I put on gloves and spread out one of my samples and found a magnifier for examination. I couldn’t do very meticulous observations, but I could at least get some basic things done.
The first sample was from the soil near the EVM. I typed my observations concerning its consistency, texture, color, etc. I did the same process for each sample I gathered, changing gloves in between. I’d then put the previous sample I studied into a box and label it.
I found the bag from the storm and opened it up. I put on new gloves and spread out the dirt evenly. I typed my observations as I normally would have done, but something stood out to me. I wished I had a proper microscope here, but I made do with the best I had. The magnifier was as close as I could get it to be, and I took a better look. Was that… a cell?
“You guys need to get over here,” I said, standing up straighter.
“What’s wrong?” Siobhan asked.
“Nothing, nothing at all. I think I just found a cell.”
She and Bruno stood on either side of me. I handed Siobhan the magnifier. I pointed to where I was looking.
“Oh, I guess there could be something there,” she mumbled. She handed the tool to Bruno so he could see.
“We would need a closer look with better tools, but it’s possible…”
HA. It’s possible that my eyes did deceive me, but it was also very possible I had made a very important discovery.
It had been a month since we got back from Venus. My hypothesis about what I found was being tested at this moment. While I was not able to actually take part in the lab itself, I was able to watch from another room. The process was so meticulous. The lab technicians took great care to make sure nothing was mishandled.
One of the lead scientists took a hold of the microscope lense. He adjusted the focus on it. I turned my head to the other people around me. If they were anxious, they didn’t show it. I looked back to the lab. The lead scientist switched samples, as a technician wrote something down. They were testing the sample that I collected from the storm. I could not believe it, even though I was looking right at it.
“How many samples do they have to look at?” I asked a man next to me.
“Ten,” he said, not bothering to look at me.
I nodded. “That’s great, well at least I think so.”
They were now on the third sample. Had they found anything yet? Did I get a bunch of people in the scientific world all hyped up for nothing? What would be of my future career, then?
Fourth sample. The lab technician wrote down a lot more this time, at least I think so. Was I just imagining it?
Fifth sample. Some of the people around me started to get a bit restless. I would have paced around with them, but I didn’t want to look away from the scene for too long.
Sixth sample. I could hear voices from that room, but they were too muffled and quiet to hear. The lab technician wrote for a while.
“What do you think that is?” I asked a different person next to me.
“They could have proven your theory right,” she said. She looked as if she was carefully considering her next words. “They could have also just found something else interesting to note.”
I nodded. The seventh sample was being observed. My impatience was catching up with me. Did I always take this long during labs?
Eighth, ninth, they went by at an agonizing speed.
The final one. I held my breath. Everything went by slower. It took too long for the lead scientist to focus the lense, too long for the technician to write down the observations and such.
The other technicians started to clean up the lab while the lead checked over the observations written down.
The lab procedure was over. I exited the room and found the lead scientist.
“What did you find?” I asked.
He thought for a moment. Maybe there was something he couldn’t tell me. “Well, we’ll have to do some more laboratory work, but your theory is… well there is definitely some sort of microbe in your sample.”
“WHAT?!” I said. Some people turned their heads. Quieter, I continued, “that’s great! Oh my god that’s… I can’t find the words to describe…”
He shrugged. “We can’t quite celebrate yet. After our additional lab work, we have to write up a report and get it peer reviewed and all that. I’m sure you’re familiar with that.”
I nodded. My hands shook with excitement.
“Good work,” he gave an awkward thumbs up and left with his technicians.
I was alone. This discovery was not only a turning point in our knowledge of Venus, but also a turning point in my life. I was just a lowly microbiologist, but now I was making discoveries and stuff. What did this mean for me and my work?
I heard footsteps behind me. I turned around and saw Bruno, Siobhan, and Joel running over to me.
“I guess you aren’t a complete failure,” Joel said, ruffling my hair.
“Well, I hope not!” I said, pushing his arms away.
“You’re so mean,” Siobhan said, lightly punching Joel’s arm.
“What happened?” Bruno asked.
“Cells, microbes,” I tried to organize my thoughts, “life… I was right! There are microorganisms living on Venus. They have more work to do but…”
As they congratulated me, I realized that it wasn’t worth trying to figure out how my life was going to change. I may be promoted, or have a new job entirely, but I would always have these people to support me, no matter what happened.