The Red Planet – Mars is the fourth planet from the sun and the second smallest planet behind mercury. Evidently, Earth is placed third from the sun and hence, Mars and Earth are neighbouring planets. But the distance between the two planets is sizeable.
The average distance according to NASA is 140 million miles. Hence, that’s about 225 million kilometres. Let’s be honest, that is quite a huge distance. A trip to Mars and back to Earth would potentially take 400 to 450 days.
In direct line, the quickest journey would take only 39 days. However, traveling to Mars in a straight line is not scientifically possible. We need to consider a number of factors while measuring the distance between the two planets.
Factors to consider while measuring the distance between the two planets
One of the main factors is that earth and mars constantly revolve around the sun. Additionally, they revolve at irregular and different speeds. Because of which the distance between the two planets keeps changing. It is very important to be calculative and rational when launching a spacecraft. In all, the duration will depend on the position of the planets as well as the route taken. Not only that but the speed of the spacecraft is also important. Another significant factor to take into account is FUEL. While more amount of fuel lets you travel faster, it makes the spacecraft heavier.
Opposition and Conjunction
There are two different periods. In the first period, earth and mars are closest to each other. During this time, Mars is closest to the sun while Earth lies farthest from the sun. We call this period as ”opposition” which occurs in every 26 years. The closest distance the two planets can get to is 33.9 miles. However, this has never happened yet. The closest distance recorded is between 34.6 miles (in 2003) and 63 miles.
Meanwhile, in the second period, earth and mars are farthest from each other. It takes place every 13 years after an opposition. We call it as ”conjunction”. During this time, the planets are on opposite sides while the sun is between them. The reported average distance is 225 million kilometres and a trip would take 6-8 months.
Regardless, Mars has many earth-related features. For years, scientists have been trying to prove the possibility of life on the red planet. But Mars seems to have a very thin layer of atmosphere.
Astronomer, Giovanni Cassini was the first person to calculate the distance between Mars and Earth in 1672. It took a lot of time and hard work as he made observations of Mars from Paris. Meanwhile, his partner, Jean Richer noted down observations from Cayenne, French Guiana. As this was a long time ago, they utilized the ’parallax’ method. Nowadays, astronomers use the speed of light.
Unmanned Spacecraft Missions to Mars
The most profitable route to use is ”Hohmann Transfer Orbit”. This strategy enables the spacecraft to travel from Earth to Mars with the least amount of fuel.
- The first spacecraft to reach Earth’s neighbouring planet is NASA’s Mariner 4 Spacecraft. It took off in 1964 and reached Mars after 228 days. Additionally, it also took photos of the Red planet.
- Next in line was NASA’s Mariner 6 in 1969. The spacecraft took just 156 days to reach Mars.
- Mariner 7 took about 131 days. It’s objective was to study the planet.
- Mariner 9 was the first spacecraft to orbit around Mars. After it launched in 1971 it took roughly 167 days.
- NASA’s New Horizons Mission in 2006 broke all records. Having a speed of 36,000 miles per hour, the spacecraft was the fastest one to launch from the Earth’s surface. In fact, if Mars and Earth were at their closest points it would have taken ONLY 39 days. Can you believe that?
- NASA’s Curiosity Rover in 2012 got there in 253 days at a speed of 23,000 mph.
A number of other missions are:
- MER-A-Spirit and MER-B-Opportunity in 2003
- Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2005
- Phoenix in 2007
- Fobos-Grunt and MSL Curiosity in 2011
If you noticed something, you’ll realise that every two years a spacecraft launches. This is because the earth and mars are the closest to each other, in every two years.
What can we expect from the future?
A while back in 2007, NASA released a statement. According to the statement, they hope to put a man on Mars by the year 2037.
Sending a manned mission to Mars is very difficult. It almost seems impossible mainly because it takes a very long while. We cannot imagine a human cramped up in a tiny spacecraft for over about a year. However, we would love to see NASA come up with some alternative.
Apart from that, ’Mars One’ Organisation has a proposal too. The organisation is pursuing to create a human settlement on Mars. And that too by 2025!
Various companies and national governments are also competing with each other. Everyone wants to send humans to Mars and make their country or company proud. We can’t wait to see what the future holds. I’m thinking of flying buses back and forth between the two planets. What are your opinions?