It would seem that the next frontier humanity will conquer is sending people to and exploring the Red Planet. While the treasure trove of discoveries waiting for us is almost too vast to measure, before we get there, we have to answer a very important question: how long does it take to get to Mars from Earth?
How Long Does It Take to Get to Mars From Earth? The Easy Answer
We already know how long it takes to get to Mars because spacecrafts have made it there from Earth before. The first to land there was the Viking 1 Lander, which was launched on August 20th, 1975. It landed on the Red Planet on July 20, 1976. So the entire trip took 424 days.
Of course, much more recently, Mars Odyssey made it in just 200 days.
That said, given Elon Musk’s recent assertion that he can get a human to Mars by 2024, you may be wondering how long that mission would take.
For that answer, things get a little more complicated…
How Long Does it Take to Get to Mars From Earth – Depends on a Number of Variables
As you might imagine, the answer is not a simple one. We’re not talking about getting from one side of the country to the other. We’re talking about traveling to another planet – one that has its own orbit.
That’s the first variable we need to look at to answer, “How long does it take to get to Mars?”
How Far Is Mars from Earth?
Because both planets have their own orbits, the distance between Earth and Mars is constantly changing. It is shortest when the two are actually at completely opposite proximities to the sun.
In other words, when Mars is as close to the sun as its orbit allows and Earth is as far away as its own will allow, the two planets would be as close as they can ever get.
Just a mere 33.9 million miles.
The problem – yes, there’s a bigger problem than a nearly 34 million mile divide – is that these circumstances have literally never happened. So they really aren’t worth planning a trip to Mars around.
As far as we know, the closest they’ve ever come is 34.8 million miles, which happened back in 2013.
The farthest apart Earth and Mars have ever been is 250 million miles, when they are each as far from the sun as their orbits ever take them.
On average, the two planets tend to keep about 140 million miles away from one another.
How Long Does it Take to Get to Mars From Earth – Speed of the Craft
In case those distances didn’t already sound large enough, it might help to put them into perspective by looking at the speed of light, which is approximately 186,282 miles per second.
That means that it takes light from Mars a little over three minutes to reach our planet from its closest approach. From its farthest approach, it takes 22 minutes. On average, light coming from Mars takes just over 12.5 minutes to reach Earth.
Unfortunately, our fastest spacecraft doesn’t come anywhere near the speed of light. The fastest craft NASA has ever launched was the New Horizons probe, which is currently on its way to Pluto and left for its journey in January 2006.
That craft travels 36,000 mph. Obviously, that’s a far cry from the speed of light.
However, a craft going this fast could make it to mars in 162 days, based on the average distance between the planets. The problem is that there’s a big difference between a probe and the kind of craft that would be needed to transport people and supplies that incredible distance and return.
The other major variable is that star in the center of our solar system. For the closest approach, it actually wouldn’t play much of a role at all because the spacecraft could basically follow a straight path from Earth to Mars.
As we already covered, though, that’s not going to happen anytime soon.
Instead, the spacecraft will need to go navigate around the sun during its journey. Unfortunately, even when they’re on the same side of the sun, the distance doesn’t remain constant.
This means scientists need to find the ideal path for a spacecraft to take from Earth to the location Mars will be at by the time the vehicle arrives.
The Speed of Light
Light travels at a speed of approximately 186,282 miles per second (or 299,792 kilometers per second). With that in mind, a light shining from the surface of Mars would take the following amount of time to reach us here on Earth:
- Closest possible time: 3.03 minutes (or 182 seconds)
- Closest recorded time: 3.11 minutes (or 187 seconds)
- Farthest time: 22.4 minutes (or 1,342 seconds)
- Average time: 12.5 minutes (or 751 seconds)
Fastest Spacecraft So Far
The New Horizons mission which visited Pluto in 2015 was the fastest spacecraft launched from Earth. The probe left Earth at 36,000 mph (or 58,000 kph) in January 2006. If a similar probe left Earth at the same speed and traveled in a straight line to Mars it would take approximately the following amount of time:
- Fastest possible time: 39 days (or 942 hours)
- Fastest recorded time: 41 days (or 967 hours)
- Farthest time: 289 days (or 6,944 hours)
- Average time: 162 days (or 3,888 hours)
Sending a Manned Mission to Mars
All of this is to say that there is no exact answer. Fortunately, scientists have long known about these variables and, therefore, can estimate that a trip would take about seven months.
Then, for the aforementioned reasons, things become interesting because the people need to come back.
Earth days and days on Mars aren’t the same lengths.
How long is a day on Mars?
It lasts for about 40 minutes longer. That might not seem like a big deal, but it adds up, especially when you’re racing against the sun.
For this reason, a manned mission to Mars would most likely take either just a few weeks or well over a year.
That means the entire scenario could last for more than two years!
How Long Does it Take to Get to Mars From Earth? – Final Verdict
We hope that the above information has given you some insight into how long it takes to travel from Earth to Mars. Of course, as outlined above, there are many factors that could alter the amount of time it takes to make the journey. However, we have given an outline of roughly how long it would take. The actual amount of time would depend on those factors.