Mars is still a long ways away from human colonization, but the NASA Space Mission Analysis Branch's (SMAB) new concept for a manned mission to Venus, using platinum-coated solar airships, could make a trip to the sulfur-covered planet possible in the near future.
One of the biggest problems keeping humanity from exploring our closest interplanetary neighbor is its extremely hazardous surface, which reaches temperatures of 872 °F, hosts massive clouds of toxic sulfuric acid, and produces pressure 90 times greater than that of Earth's atmosphere. As stated in the SMAB report, however, 30 miles above Venus' surface, these conditions become "relatively benign, with similar pressure, density, gravity, and radiation protection to the surface of Earth." The High Altitude Venus Operational Concept (HAVOC) is designed to establish a presence in that relatively safe zone using lighter-than-air balloon ships, potentially hosting a two-person crew on an evolutionary monthlong program of planetary exploration.
In theory, this new approach seems promising, particularly with its accompanying concept video. Several new technologies and techniques must first be developed, however, to make the mission possible, including "performing the aerocapture maneuvers at Venus and Earth, inserting and inflating the airship at Venus, and protecting the solar panels and structure from the sulfuric acid in the atmosphere." Venus is roughly ten-to-85 million miles closer to Earth than Mars, depending on its position, so perhaps Total Recall got it wrong: the second rock from the sun might be the best candidate for extraterrestrial exploration, after all.
Visit the NASA Space Mission Analysis Bureau for more updates on the HAVOC mission.