How Much Time Would It Take To Travel To Mars?

Quck answer

To fly to Mars, the duration depends on several factors, including the spacecraft’s speed and the alignment of Earth and Mars. On average, it takes around 7 months to reach Mars. NASA’s fastest mission, the Mars Science Laboratory, took 8 months. However, future missions may aim to reduce the travel time to as little as 3 months using advanced propulsion systems. It’s important to note that these estimates do not include the time spent on Mars for exploration and research. Overall, while the journey to Mars is long, continuous advancements in technology are making it more feasible for human exploration in the future.


Are we there yet? That’s the question that makes parents cringe during a trip. If you’ve ever driven to another state for a vacation, you know that long trips in the car can become a bit tedious. After a few hours, you simply want to arrive already!

However, if you find long trips boring, you might not want to become an astronaut. Journeying to outer space demands much more patience than your average trip to the beach.

The United States has sent astronauts to the moon and into orbit around Earth. Many space enthusiasts dream of the day when there will be a manned mission to the “Red Planet” of Mars.

Earth is sometimes referred to as the “third rock from the Sun,” which would make Mars the fourth rock from the Sun. Even though it’s the next planet over, it’s still a considerable distance away.

Similar to Earth, Mars revolves around the Sun, albeit on a different orbit. Every 26 months, Mars reaches a point where it is as close as it ever gets to Earth. This point is called opposition and, at opposition, Mars is between 34.6 and 63 million miles away, depending on the year.

Thirteen months after opposition, Mars reaches conjunction, which means Mars and Earth are on opposite sides of the Sun and as far away from each other as possible. At conjunction, Mars is nearly 250 million miles from Earth.

Clearly, if you want to travel to Mars, it would be optimal to do so at the point of opposition, when Mars is “only” 35-63 million miles away. This is why rocket scientists schedule their unmanned missions to Mars to coincide with opposition windows every 26 months. The most recent opposition window was in May 2016 and the next one will be in 2018.

If you dream of one day being an astronaut on the first manned flight to Mars, be prepared for a long journey. Scientists estimate that a round trip to Mars would take 400-450 days. Would you be willing to spend over a year in a spacecraft just to reach Mars and come back? You could be asking “Are we there yet?” for months on end! Additionally, what would you pack?

Aside from the long journey, a manned mission to Mars presents many other challenges. Scientists are concerned about astronauts being exposed to cosmic rays and other forms of radiation during the lengthy trip. They also worry about the physical effects astronauts would experience from prolonged exposure to a low-gravity, low-light environment.

Perhaps the most unpredictable factor is the psychological impact that astronauts might face due to isolation from Earth. No one knows for certain the mental stress that could arise from the absence of contact with the friends and family left behind by the astronauts.

Other obstacles to a manned mission to Mars include the need for fuel for such a long journey, as well as the requirement for oxygen, water, and food to sustain the astronauts throughout the extended mission. Unfortunately, Mars has a very thin atmosphere that would not typically support human life.

Despite these challenges, countries worldwide are planning for future manned missions to Mars. In 2004, the U.S. established a manned Mars mission as a long-term objective. In 2007, NASA announced its hopes of sending a man to Mars by 2037.

Are you interested in a future mission to Mars? The development of new technology in the future is unpredictable. Some scientists believe that advanced engines powered by nuclear energy could make the trip to Mars as short as 39 days. Can you imagine how fast the spaceship would be traveling?

Give it a try

Are you ready to explore Mars in more depth? Ask a friend or family member to join you as you embark on one or more of the following activities:

  • Have you ever wondered what Mars looks like? Thanks to NASA, Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity have sent us some incredible photographs over the years. Go online and check out the Mars Exploration Rovers Images gallery. You can also find interesting Mars images on MarsQuest Online. If you prefer videos, you can watch several Mars Exploration Rovers videos about the rovers and the challenges of reaching Mars!
  • Now that you have learned about Mars and how long a trip to the red planet might take, would you be willing to go if given the opportunity? Why or why not? What factors would you consider important in making your decision? Create a pro/con list for a potential trip to Mars. Pro/con lists outline the positive aspects (pros) and the negative aspects (cons) of a possible decision. What would excite you about a trip to Mars? What concerns would you have? Leaving loved ones behind? Once you have completed your pro/con list, evaluate the positive aspects against the negative aspects. Do the potential benefits outweigh the concerns?
  • What would it take to live on Mars? This is the question posed by Imagine Mars, a national initiative that combines arts, science, and technology to challenge young people to imagine and design a livable Mars community in the future. If you are up for a challenge, take some time to explore the Imagine Mars website. You will discover fascinating facts about Mars and the challenges humans would face in establishing a permanent presence there. Can you design a future community that can overcome these challenges?

Sources of Wonder

  • http://www.spaceday.org/index.php/About-Us.html
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manned_mission_to_Mars
  • http://www.universetoday.com/45007/how-far-is-mars-from-the-earth/
  • http://www.universetoday.com/42167/trips-to-mars-in-39-days/

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