How Long Does It Take To Get To Mars? Trips To The Red Planet, Explained

There’s a lot of talk about sending people to Mars. But how long does it take to make a trip to the Red Planet from Earth? Here’s what we know.

Mars stands out as one of the most fascinating planets in the entire Solar System — and a planet many people dream of visiting one day. Unfortunately, actually making a trip to get to the Red Planet can take quite a bit of time. Mars has long been a point of interest for astronomers all over the world. Thanks to its solid surface, rich history, and the belief that life once existed there, humans are constantly trying to learn more about our Martian neighbor.

This desire to explore Mars has only increased in recent years. NASA landed its Perseverance rover on Mars in February 2021, tasking it with collecting rock samples that’ll eventually be returned to Earth. NASA also used its InSight probe in July 2021 to create an interior map of Mars — the first of its kind for a planet beyond Earth. Combine these robotic adventures with the building desire to send the first humans to Mars, and it’s safe to say Martian interest has never been greater.

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All of this discussion of Mars raises an important question, however: How long does it take to get to the planet? It’s not something that’s given much thought when NASA sends a rover or orbiter to Mars, but if the organization’s eventually going to send people there, how long of a trip can they expect? The average distance between Mars and Earth is around 140 million miles. Let’s say someone was traveling at 60 mph — a typical driving speed for a car here on Earth. At that rate, it could take a little under 2,330,333 hours to get to Mars (or around 266 years). Thankfully, ships designed for space travel can go much faster. NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft — one of the fastest ever created — could reach Mars in around 162 days traveling at 36,000 mph.


The Distance Between Earth And Mars Is Constantly Changing


Earth And Mars

Those are all just average numbers, though. Because Earth, Mars, and other planets orbit the Sun at different speeds, that means the distance between them is constantly changing. That 140 million mile distance between Earth and Mars is just an average. The closest Mars ever got to Earth was in 2003 when it was just 34.8 million miles from the planet. If NASA could have used its New Horizons ship to fly to Mars then, it would have reached the Red Planet in about 40 days! When the two planets are at their furthest point from each other, they can be separated by up to 250 million miles. Even with the incredible speed of New Horizons, it’d take the ship 289 days to reach Mars at this distance.


This variable distance between Earth and Mars is immediately apparent when looking at past missions to the Red Planet. Most recently, it took NASA’s Perseverance rover 203 days of traveling from its launch on Earth to landing on Mars’ surface. 2005’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter made it to Mars in 205 days, the Pathfinder spacecraft got on Mars after 212 days, and Curiosity arrived on Mars following 254 days of travel. NASA tries to plan its launches around optimal positions between Earth and Mars, but of course, there’s always some variance in how long it takes to get there.

There’s no doubt that a trip to Mars takes a lung time right now. Thankfully, this is something scientists and engineers are constantly trying to improve. SpaceX, for example, estimates it could send people to Mars in as little as 80 days! It’ll be a while before that’s standard practice, but it goes to show that 200+ days of travel won’t always be the norm.


Next: Why Is Mars Red?

Source: NASA

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