I have trouble comprehending the size of other planets, photos like these make me feel uneasy (in an exciting way) because they are strikingly similar to landscapes we might find here on earth - yet it's a completely different planet! I'm no longer looking at mars as a red circle as shown in textbooks, but now as vast unseen landscapes that have never been explored before - a new perspective and a new age of discovery and I can't wait to see what else happens in my life.
It's also a stunning achievement. As I lie in bed looking up into the darkness, a boundless expanse of tens of millions of miles of absolutely nothing lies between me, and a small man made robot with the martian wind gusting and whistling gently over it. A robot that is cautiously making small movements, buzzing and whirring going about it's business with no one there to hear the sounds or see the movements it's making. A machine who's intentions are totally pure - it's sole purpose is simply to learn. A small beacon in a far-reaching expanse of barrenness and nothingness.
One thing I found recently I'd never heard of before is 'Venera 13': http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venera_13
A Russian rover that landed on Venus in 1981 - designed to last the harsh environment of Venus for 32 minutes but actually lasted 127 minutes. An extraordinary engineering achievement to have a rover go from freezing space temperatures to temperatures of over 450c.
And it managed to transmit images of the surface:
Absolutely stunning, and in some ways even more eerie and provocative to me than the Mars pictures as the environment it briefly operated in is far more hostile and as time was so limited the images are even more precious.
Or: http://www.esa.int/esaMI/Cassini-Huygens/SEMKVQOFGLE_1.html (check the hires download!)
Perhaps the best resource for surface images of Venus (along with fascinating image reconstruction) is Don P. Mitchell's page: http://mentallandscape.com/C_CatalogVenus.htm
Another fascinating tidbit: the Soviets also performed the first (and to date, only) deployment of a balloon probe on another planet: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aerobot#The_Venus_Vega_balloons
He mentions on his copyright page that he studied Russian books/papers, befriended & interviewed Russian scientists, dug up rare photographs, and even processed original spacecraft data with custom C++ code to create some of the images!
I look forward to his book; does he have an ETA on the publication date?
"Shortly after passing into daylight, the Vega-2 aerostat plunged several kilometers, to a level of 0.9 atmospheres, dangerously close to the lower limit of its stable float zone. After the end of signal, the balloons probably overheated and burst, somewhere on the daylight side of Venus."
> I have trouble comprehending the size of other planets
It's actually reassuring to me. It's rocks. We understand rocks. I'm surrounded by them. There may not be a blade of grass, a gasp of air or a friendly face to greet us but at least there are rocks.
But around 50km above the surface of Venus, the temperatures are nice, and the pressure is 1 earth atmosphere. You just have to to stay up there.
> around 50km above the surface of Venus, the temperatures
> are nice, and the pressure is 1 earth atmosphere. You just
> have to to stay up there.
> as I understand, if you could cool it down to an
> acceptable temperature, you could walk on the surface
> with just a breathing apparatus, right?
Mars is a much better bet for human habitation in the short term. Chemically, it has all the ingredients we need to support human life. And it is much easier to build structures that can withstand the thin atmosphere (0.6 kPa) and relatively tame temperature range (-87 C to 63 C, all figures according to Wikipedia) than to build something that can survive the 9 MPa and 450 C on the surface on Venus.
not even mentioning the sulfur acid rains, lead sulfide snow and lack of magnetic field (cosmic rays penetrating atmosphere if it would be weakened)
> Doesn't mars also lack a magnetic field?
For humans to settle on Mars and stay for any length of time, we will need to find a way to shield ourselves from the ionizing radiation that reaches the surface.  On Earth, most of this radiation is either deflected by the global magnetic field, or absorbed by the atmosphere.
And to answer that question and others is why we(humans) have bothered with Space Lab, Mir, IST. You can Google answer.
If you do like video games, one that had such an intended effect on me was the first Mass Effect. There are a number of side missions where you descend onto planets in a multi-terrain vehicle and are supposed to check some things out (you can get out of the rover as well). Although for the most part the planets are barren (much like Mars), I found them incredibly effective at sending the scale message across. The most incredible one though, was a side mission on the Moon, with Earth right up above you. Though the scale wasn't 100% accurate, it still made for one of the most impressive moments in video games for me.