Mars has always fascinated us. The red planet is the closest planet to Earth, and it’s also the fourth largest planet in our solar system.
It is often cited as the planet where space travel is headed next, but how long would it take to reach Mars?
Well, it would take around 40 days for an unmanned vessel to travel from Earth to Mars at the current speed of our fastest spacecraft (58,000 Kilometers per hour).
This means that the journey would take approximately 3 months to complete a round trip.
However, this is based on a direct line from Earth to Mars, and does not take into consideration the many fluctuations and complications of true space travel.
- How Far Away Is Mars From Earth?
- What Is The Hohmann Transfer Orbit?
- How Long Does A Space Probe Take To Get To Mars?
- How Many Successful Missions To Mars Have There Been?
- How Long Would A Human Mission To Mars Take?
- Why Haven’t We Sent Humans To Mars Yet?
- What Will Future Missions To Mars Be Like?
- When Will We Finally Send Humans To Mars?
- Final Thoughts
How Far Away Is Mars From Earth?
The true distance between Earth and Mars is constantly changing because we are both orbital planets and are constantly on the move.
As both planets operate on elliptical orbits, the distance fluctuates even more than it would if both had circular orbits.
What’s more, Mars’ orbit is approximately 1.9 years. So for every one full rotation of the sun it makes, the earth makes almost two.
- At its furthest distance, Mars is 250 million miles (401 million km) away from Earth.
- The average distance between Earth and Mars is 140 million miles (225 million km).
- The closest that the Earth gets to Mars is about 54.6 million kilometers. This is when their orbital paths come together and the earth sits directly between Mars and the sun. It happens every 26 months.
What Is The Hohmann Transfer Orbit?
The Hohmann Transfer Orbit is thought by NASA to be the most energy-efficient way to get spacecraft to Mars.
It involves launching the spacecraft into space at the optimum time so that the craft can escape the gravitational pull of the earth and instead intersect with the gravitational pull of Mars’ own orbit.
This method allows the object to use less fuel than if it used a conventional trajectory, as it can cruise along the existing orbital pathway.
The craft only needs fuel to increase speed and velocity to escape Earth’s orbit, and again to decelerate to connect with Mars’ orbit until it is ready to touch down on the surface.
Though this mission design is energy and fuel-efficient, it still has a considerable travel time because it is a very indirect route.
Unmanned missions with robotic spacecraft have had a 7 month journey time using this method.
NASA estimates that manned missions would take 9 months via this route.
How Long Does A Space Probe Take To Get To Mars?
Human’s have sent numerous spacecraft to Mars since the 1960s in our search for knowledge and discovery.
However, the journey is a notoriously risky one, and only about half the missions have ever been successful.
In 1965, NASA completed the first successful flyby mission to Mars. It took the Mariner 4 eight months to reach the red planet.
It launched on the 28th November, 1964, and reached Mars on the 14th July 1965.
In 1971, NASA’s Mariner 9 was the first spacecraft to successfully land on Mars.
It launched on May 30th and landed on the planet on the 19th September.
It also became the first spacecraft to photograph the Martian landscape.
The Martian surface was discovered to be dusty and dry, and dormant volcanoes were also discovered.
How Many Successful Missions To Mars Have There Been?
NASA has sent over 40 different unmanned space probes to Mars since the beginning of the space age.
Of these, only 10 have ever returned images or data back to Earth.
Their main aims have been to investigate the Martian atmosphere, look for the possibility of life, signs of ancient life, search for surface water, and discern if Mars may one day be a habitable planet for humankind.
These missions have discovered that Mars is a very dry planet with an arid landscape.
However, there are some clues to habitable conditions like frozen carbon dioxide deposits which could possibly support microbial life.
How Long Would A Human Mission To Mars Take?
In theory, NASA predicts that a one-way trip to Mars with a manned spacecraft would take around 9 months, using current methods of chemical propulsion used in chemical rockets.
The human crew would have to wait around 3 months on the planet’s surface until the orbital trajectory was right for them to begin a return journey.
Even with our fastest spacecraft, the total journey time would take around 21 months.
Why Haven’t We Sent Humans To Mars Yet?
We have never managed to send a human mission to Mars, and this is because sending humans into space would involve sending many more resources and fuel supplies – all of which weigh down a spacecraft and slow down the journey time.
The human body needs water to survive – therefore, a manned spacecraft would have to hold tons of water to keep the human crew hydrated.
This takes up space and increases weight.
Other supplies like food, living space, equipment, and medical supplies would all mean that any manned mission to Mars would take place in a very cramped spacecraft!
The mission would also need to have enough fuel for a return mission if the human astronauts ever hoped to see their families again.
The increased fuel adds weight to the craft, which in turn means that more fuel is needed to propel it into space!
What Will Future Missions To Mars Be Like?
Future missions will most likely use new technologies and techniques to help reduce the amount of fuel needed to travel to Mars.
- Using ion engines instead of traditional chemical rocket engines. Ion engines produce thrust by accelerating charged particles (electrons) through magnetic fields. They do not require rocket propellant, so they can be much smaller than traditional chemical rockets.
- Using solar sails instead of traditional chemical rockets. Solar sails harness the power of sunlight to push a spacecraft forward. They don’t require fuel, but they can’t move as fast as conventional rockets.
- Using nuclear reactors instead of traditional chemical rockets to provide energy. Nuclear reactors use atomic fission to create heat and electricity. They are safer than traditional chemical rockets, but they still require large amounts of fuel.
- Using lasers instead of traditional chemical rockets for propulsion. Lasers work by focusing intense beams of light onto small targets called ‘beamsplitters’. When the beam hits the target, it causes it to explode into tiny fragments. The resulting explosion pushes the spacecraft forwards.
When Will We Finally Send Humans To Mars?
NASA aims to send the first manned mission to Mars in the 2030s. It will land on the Red Planet, collect samples, and then return to Earth.
These future missions may be able to cut the amount of fuel needed by over 90% compared to previous missions.
They are also designed to speed up the time it will take to get to Mars. Even so, the total journey time is still predicted to take many months.
Plus, these new technologies won’t come cheap.
A manned mission to Mars will cost tens or hundreds of billions of dollars, depending on how far away from Earth you want to go.
We still have lots to unravel before we can holiday in Mars for spring break.
And there you have it! Although Mars isn’t a completely unreachable destination, we can’t exactly just pop on over quickly then pop back.
It’s going to take a lot more research and dedicated individuals to finally make the first human mission to Mars possible, but it’s estimated that such a mission would take at least 9 months, and that’s just one way!
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