Space, the final frontier. For hundreds of years, humans have always had a fascination with space and the universe as a whole. That curiosity drove us to not only the moon but to Mars as well. Soon people will make that trek to explore and learn everything there is to know about Mars, which will happen very soon, but how long will that historic trek take?
Check out this article to learn all about Mars, and how long it will take to go there.
But first, let’s start with how long it takes to get to Mars: between 210 and 300 days depending on how close Earth is to Mars during their respective orbits.
I would like to die on Mars. Just not on impact. – Elon Musk
Facts About Mars
Before we go over how long it will take to get to Mars, we wanted to go over some facts about the Red Planet.
- Mars is named after the Roman God of war, Mars
- Named after Mars because of the red coloring of the planet
- Out of the 40 Mars missions, only 18 have actually been successful
- Most have crashed and burned or have been lost
- The most well known Mars mission is the Mars rover Curiosity, which takes soil samples as well as pictures of Mars (it also takes selfies)
- Mars’ average temperature is around -80 degrees (Fahrenheit)
- In contrast, Earth’s average is around 60 degrees
- Mars has 2 moons:
- Phobos: Means fear, looks like an asteroid. Larger of the 2 moons
- Deimos: Means panic, considerably smaller than Phobos and looks more like a giant rock
- Is about 142 million miles away from the sun
- The Earth is about 93 million miles away from the sun
- Atmosphere is primarily made out of Carbon Dioxide
- Is also known as the Red Planet
- The red color is caused by iron rusting along the surface since iron is the most prevalent substance
- Scientists are not sure what Mars’ core is yet, but with the explorations, NASA is conducting it is a matter of time until we learn more about the Red Planet’s core
- Has about 63% less gravity than the Earth has
- You would weigh considerably less on Mars than on Earth
- Has an orbit period of 687 days
- That means 1 Martian year is 687 days on Earth
- 1 day on Mars is about 25 hours
- Days on Mars are actually called sols, not days
Now that you know some interesting facts about Mars, let’s go over how long it will take to actually get to Mars.
|Average Surface Temperature (K):||218K|
|Diameter:||6,785 km (4,217 miles)|
|Mass:||0.64×10^24 kilograms (0.11 x Earth’s)|
|Maximum Distance from Sun:||249 million km (155 million miles)|
|Minimum Distance from Earth:||35 million miles|
|Minimum Distance from Sun:||205 million km (128 million miles)|
|Name in Roman/Greek Mythology:||Mars/Ares|
|Orbital Semimajor Axis:||1.52 AU (Earth=1 AU)|
|Revolution Period about the Sun:||1.88 years|
|Rotation Period about Axis:||24.6 hrs|
|Surface Gravity:||3.7 m/s^2 (0.37 x Earth’s)|
|Temperature:||-129oC to 0oC ( -200oF to 32oF)|
|Tilt of Axis:||25o|
How Long Will It Take to Get to Mars?
So just how long is a trip to Mars? Well, we need to first see how far away Mars is from us before we determine how long it takes to get there.
How far away is Mars?
The distance between the Earth and Mars varies greatly, depending on where the two planets are in their orbit. The shortest distance between Earth and Mars is only 40 million miles when Mars is closest to the sun in its orbit (also called perihelion), and Earth is farthest from the sun (also called aphelion). However, the Earth and Mars have never reached that orbit yet where the two planets are as close as possible.
- Fun fact: The closest Earth and Mars have ever been was in 2003 when they were about 35 million miles away.
When Mars and Earth are farthest apart (meaning they are on opposite sides of the sun) they are about 250 million miles away. As you can see the distance between the two planets can vary greatly, so the length of time to get to Mars is not always the same. On average, Earth and Mars are about 140 million miles away.
How long will it take to get to Mars?
Now that we know the distance between the Earth and Mars, and that the Mars missions need to launch when Mars’ and Earth’s orbit are close, the biggest question is how long it will take. Historically the time lengths have differed when we have launched different probes and rovers to Mars, but scientists have estimated that it will take about 7 months to get to Mars.
Keep in mind that the 7 months estimation is going off of leaving when Mars’ and Earth’s orbits are closest, so it can take considerably more time to get to Mars. Like we said above, there have been many missions to Mars, so let’s check those out and see how long it took them to get to Mars.
Missions to Mars
Out of the 40 missions to Mars, only a small hand full have actually been successful. While we aren’t going to go over all the missions, we will cover the most important ones.
Mariner 4 (1965)
The Mariner 4 was the very first spacecraft to actually go to Mars when it performed a flyby in 1965. What’s even more impressive is that the Mariner 4 gave us the first pictures of Mars (photo below), and is the first craft that gave us pictures of a planet in deep space.
Communication with Mariner 4 ceased in 1967, 2 years after its launch. It was hit by numerous meteorites and is now orbiting in our solar system.
Length of time to get to Mars: 228, or 7.5 months
Mariner 9 (1971)
The Mariner 9 (which is in the same mission series as the Mariner 4) was the first ever spacecraft to not only orbit Mars, but to orbit a planet. It reached Mars in 1971 with the intent to get into Mars’ orbit and study the surface. However, when it arrived Mars was experiencing a massive dust storm that obscured the atmosphere so the Mariner 9 could not transmit any pictures of Mars’ surface for a few months.
After almost 1 year of orbiting, Mariner 9 transmitted about 7,400 pictures that covered 85% of Mars, which gave scientists much more information about Mars and its surface. Mariner 9 also captured photos of Mars’ moons. With the images, NASA received there were able to map out Mars and see the weather patterns Mars has.
After a 1-year orbit, Mariner 9 officially ran out of fuel and was decommissioned. It is currently still orbiting Mars and is expected to enter Mars’ atmosphere in 2022 where it will burn up and crash into Mars.
Length of time to get to Mars: 168 days, or 5.5 months
Viking 1 (1975)
Viking 1 was the very first United States spacecraft to land on Mars in 1975. This lander actually held the record for being the longest landing mission, lasting 5 years (or about 2245 sols). One of the main focuses for Viking 1 was the search for life on Mars, so it carried out multiple biological experiments using equipment such as a gas chromatograph – mass spectrometer (GCMS), conducted a gas exchange (GEX) experiment, and a labeled release (LR) experiment. Viking 1 also took the very first panoramic view of Mars (picture below).
NASA officially lost communication with Viking 1 in 1982. This lander was a great resource for the US because it not only gave us our first images of the Martian surface, but it also was the first craft to ever land on Mars. Without the Viking 1, the newest rovers may not have been possible.
Length of time to get to Mars: 304 days, or 10 months
Mars Global Surveyor (1996)
This mission and probe are quite different from the other crafts on this list because this mission was to map Mars and examine nearly everything to do with Mars. This mission was also launched to help prepare for the rover missions NASA was already planning.
In January of 2001 it had completed mapping the Red Planet, and in November of 2006, NASA lost communication with the probe. After many attempts to reconnect to the Surveyor NASA officially ended the mission in early 2007.
Time to get to Mars: 308 days, or 10 months
Spirit / Opportunity (2003)
Spirit is the first in the line of Mars’ rover expeditions and is extremely significant in our quest to go to Mars someday. This rover is actually the “twin” of the rover Opportunity, which was launched shortly after Spirit. Spirit landed in 2004 and lived until 2009 when it became completely stuck in the sand. In 2010 Spirit sent its last communication to NASA and has since been decommissioned.
Opportunity, on the other hand, landed on the opposite side of the planet. Opportunity is apparently quite the fighter because it has survived its expected lifespan of over 13 years and is still active as of 2017. Opportunity has traveled about 28 miles total, which is quite the accomplishment for this little rover. It has actually surveyed where NASA plans to land for future missions, making it an extremely important part of our Martian exploration.
Time to get to Mars (Spirit): 9 months
Time to get to Mars (Opportunity): 7 months
Curiosity is the most recent rover to land on Mars, landing on Mars in August of 2012. Curiosity’s mission is to study Mars’ climate as well as its topography in the search for any type of bacterial life on Mars.
Curiosity has actually made some interesting discoveries, primarily that Mars (at one point) was very favorable to actually sustain some sort of microbial life. Curiosity will serve for as long as it lives, which is actually already past its shelf date.
Time to get to Mars: 10 months
To answer the question “how long does it take to get to Mars”, we have averaged that the Mars travel is around 7 months, give or take a couple months. Most of our successful launches have reached Mars within 9 months, and many of those missions have taught us a lot about Mars and its atmosphere. The hope is that by 2030, we will have our first manned mission to Mars, which will be an incredible accomplishment for humanity.