I hope you will agree with me when I say:
We have all fantasized about traveling to outer space and exploring the secrets hidden in our solar system.
Over the years we have gone from viewing mars to be the God of War in Roman mythology, to viewing the red planet as the next most habitable orb in our galaxy.
But do you ever wonder how long would it take a human to get to Mars? Is time travel to Mars possible? How far is Mars from Earth? I am here to ensure none of your questions are left unanswered.
We will begin by first exploring the red planet itself, and other important facts like the distance from Earth to Mars that affect our decision to travel. Then, we will discuss further previous missions to Mars. Finally, we will be able to conclude How Long Does It Take To Travel To Mars.
This terrestrial planet, known to be the next smallest after Mercury, orbits the Sun from a 142 million miles distance. Its atmosphere is mainly comprised of carbon dioxide, and its gravitational forces are 3/8th of the forces that we experience on Earth.
This means that walking on Mars would be the equivalent of bouncing on a trampoline on Earth. However, it is not as fun as it sounds. In reality, walking on a planet with microgravity results in serious health complications that include conditions such as eye-sight and muscle loss.
Moving on to the distance between our home and Mars, the average distance between the two planets is about 140 million miles apart. The closest distance that the planets can be is around 34 million miles. However, this has yet to occur in the recorded lifespan of the two planets.
Mars was observed to be the closest to Earth in 2003 when the two planets were at a distance of 34.8 million miles apart. The closest average distance of 35 million miles overall is achieved approximately after every 26th month. The farthest distance that the red planet has been away from Earth has been recorded at 250 million miles.
Next, we will discuss the logistics behind a mission to Mars, and the factors that affect the decision to travel in the first place. The atmosphere at Mars can be the first destructive obstacle in an astronaut’s journey. The planet is known to be surrounded by an extremely dusty atmosphere, and the particles of dust are relatively smaller than the ones witnessed on Earth. Dust storms can surround the planet for weeks at a time. The resulting situation would require astronauts to survive off of stored water and power, as solar panels would no longer be functional amidst the storm.
In addition, each mission must coincide with the synodic periods that occur every 26th month. One other factor to keep in mind is how far apart is Mars from the Sun. At their farthest distance apart, the southern hemisphere of Mars experiences harsh winters, and the same happens at their closest distance to the northern hemisphere. This affects the sustainability of the journey as well, as generating solar power can be affected depending on where the astronauts land.
Now, before we discuss how to get to Mars, we will look into the missions of the past and how long would a Mars mission take if we followed the same steps as before.
Missions on Mars In The Past
To be able to answer the question of how long will it take to get to mars, we will look into missions that took place in the past, and the earth to mars and back travel time. The following are the journeys listed in order from the earliest to the latest:
- Mariner 4 (1964)
- Mariner 6 (1969)
- Mariner 7 (1969)
- Mariner 9 (1971)
- Viking 1 (1975)
- Viking 2 (1975)
- Mars Global Surveyor (1996)
- Mars Pathfinder (1996)
- Mars Express Orbiter (2003)
- Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (2005)
Starting off with Mariner 4, it was the first mission that explored the space surrounding Mars and captured images of the planet. The spacecraft was launched on the 28th of November in 1964 and completed its mission in 228 days. Moving on, Mariner 6 and 7 were launched on the 25th of February and 27th of March respectively in 1969. The former took a total of 156 days in flight time, whilst the Mariner 7 completed the journey in 131 days. The Mariner 9, which is still in Mars orbit, was launched on the 30th of May in 1971 and took a total of 167 days to reach Mars.
These are just a few examples that highlight how long does it take to get to the mars. The longest mission recorded yet out of the list above is the Viking 2, which took a total of 325 days. Through our previous records, we can tell that a journey from Earth to Mars can take anywhere between 131 to 325 days. The variation depends on a lot of factors, such as the distance between the two planets, the path is chosen, and the obstacles in the solar system.
We will now look into all these factors and be able to understand why does it take so long to get to Mars.
How Long Does It Take To Get To Mars
Previously, we mentioned the variations in distance between Earth and Mars. But how does the fluctuation in distance affect the Earth to Mars travel time? When we speak about planetary missions, the most common query is whether rockets travel a straight distance from Earth, or do they have a specific route to follow? We shall begin by understanding the effect of individual orbits of each planet and how the trajectory route is selected for each mission.
Earth and Mars both revolve around the sun in their own orbits. The two planets also orbit at their own specific rates. When Earth completes about 2 orbits of the Sun, Mars concludes a singular orbit. In order for us to land on Mars, both the planets should be in perfect alignment. Let’s now explore the best route for a journey to the red planet based on the distance between the two planets and the time of their alignment.
Earth to Mars in Light Years
First, let’s look at how far is Mars from Earth in light-years. Mars is less than one light-years away from Earth and is almost 22 light minutes apart from our home. Hence, if we were traveling to Mars at the speed of light when the two planets were at their closest distance apart, it would take us about 3 minutes to reach Mars.
Keeping the average and farthest distance in mind, we would reach Mars in 13 and 23 minutes respectively at the speed of light. But how long does it take to get to Mars from Earth in our defined measurement of time?
Breakdown of The Journey
The closest distance that the two planets can be in theory is 33.9 million miles. In reality, the closest approach ever has been 34.9 million miles. Every 26 months, Earth and Mars are at their closest distance which is 35 million miles. If a spacecraft were to launch from the Earth’s surface at this distance, it would complete its journey in approximately 39-40 days. This Earth to Mars travel time assumption is based on picking a straight, linear route to reach the Martian surface. However, this is not the actual case.
It is impossible for a spacecraft to travel a linear distance to reach Mars, as the planet is constantly traveling in its own orbit. If NASA were to cut down the time needed to reach Mars, they would need to exhaust an enormous amount of fuel to get there. Hence, we must pick a trajectory route that is both fuel and cost-efficient.
The average traveling time is 6-8 months depending on which trajectory is picked. The most fuel and cost-efficient and sustainable route picked by NASA was called the Hohman Transfer. They picked the 26 months launch window at which both the planets are at their closest distance, and realized it takes around 260 days or 8 and a half months to reach Mars. If you are wondering how long to get to Mars and back, then it would take an average of 3 months to stay at Mars and the travel back home would be another 8 and a half months. Overall, it would take you 22 months for your entire journey.
How long does it take to get to Mars: SpaceX and their advancements
Elon Musk, who is the CEO at SpaceX, along with his team has made some advancements in the field of space travel. SpaceX developed their own Interplanetary Transport System, and they claim to cut down the travel time of a Mars mission from an average of 6-8 months to 2.6 months total. They plan to further reduce the time for travel to a month, however, this is far too ambitious for them to achieve any time soon.
Some other interesting facts on Mars:
- On the 30th of July in 2022, NASA launched their Mars Perseverance Rover which is predicted to land on the Martian surface on the 18th of February in 2022.
- In 2023, NASA aims to attempt their Mars One mission, through which they will implant a habitat on Mars for humans to settle and will send their crew to join the previous crew every 2 years or so. This settlement will be a life-changing one for us on Earth.
- The next closest approach of Mars to Earth is determined to occur in 2022. This is the time period in which we will be expecting NASA to launch their Sample Return mission.
- Mars has got two moons, Phobos and Deimos. Phobos is predicted to crash the Martian surface sometime in the next 45-50 million years.
- Phobos is expected to crash and form a ring around Mars
- Olympus Mons is officially registered as the tallest mountain, with evidence that points towards volcanic activity from the mountain.
- From the Martian surface, astronauts can only view half of the Sun as compared to the Earth.
- The longest season on Mars is actually Spring. It brings about all the large dust storms on the planet. During this time, using solar energy to generate power might become impossible. These dust storms can also be a huge obstacle for space probes as they will no longer be able to function and collect scientific data due to dust covering the entire surface of the planet for months at a time.
- The temperature on Mars on average scores way higher than the temperature on Earth during the summers. It is normally around 60°C.
- There is evidence of water on Mars. A lake was detected on Mars in 2018 by some astronauts studying the Southern hemisphere.
- The largest component of the atmosphere on Mars is carbon dioxide. It accounts for almost 96%, similar to the atmosphere of Venus. The planet also hosts large clouds of carbon dioxide, along with a small percentage of nitrogen in its atmosphere.
- If you are wondering how long would it take to drive to Mars, expect a journey that goes on for hundreds of years. Depending on your speed, if you drive at the standard maximums speed limit, it would take you over 230 years to reach Mars.
Whether it is through science fiction or NASA’s frequent updates on their recent missions, Mars has been a part of our conversations about space travel for decades. The red planet has been involved in multiple fascinations in the minds of aspiring scientists and astronauts, that cherish the efforts made to reveal all the Martian secrets. One area of major investments in space travel is being done in terms of Mars as well. NASA and other space research agencies are figuring out how to get to Mars in the shortest amount of time possible.
They have been using multiple innovative and scientific technologies to answer how long to reach Mars keeping sustainability, efficiency, and health of astronauts at top priority. The debate continues, and scientific advancements continue to rise. Where will the future take us, who knows? We sure hope it is Mars, though.
Now that you finally understand how long it would take to get to Mars, you can revisit your childhood dream of living on Mars and decide if it is the journey for you!
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