Scientists are still trying to gather answers about Mars. They wish to know whether the planet ever supported life and how its evolution might have progressed.
Researchers must also understand what it will be like for future manned spacecraft to travel there, including weather forecasting and how to access safe drinking water sources.
How long does it take to get to Mars?
Time required for human space travel varies significantly based on several factors, from distance between Earth and Mars to technology propelling it. While scientists have done the calculations and estimates necessary for human travel to Mars, many obstacles must first be cleared away before this can happen.
Launch at the right time is key for reaching Mars with minimal amounts of fuel use. Both Mars and Earth orbit around the Sun at different speeds, so sometimes their orbits come very close (known as perihelion) while at other times very far apart (called aphelion). To maximize efficiency when exploring this vast planet, shoot for where Mars will be when your arrive, not where it was when you launched.
Elon Musk has been working on Starship – his rocket designed to transport people and cargo to Mars – but its launch remains uncertain. Before beginning its voyage towards its destination, it must refuel in low Earth orbit prior to flying over and make the return journey back home when both Earth and Mars are aligned for this journey.
Why does it take so long?
Mars can take years to reach due to both its vast distance and complexity of travel. A spacecraft must perform an intricate sequence of events like opening a parachute, firing engines and so forth in just the right order–something which must happen millions of kilometers away with precision on the order of meters.
Since 1965 when Mariner 4 came within 6,000 miles of Mars, the United States has successfully sent nine rovers and eight orbiters to Mars. NASA’s Curiosity rover is searching Jezero Crater for signs of past life; and, most recently, Mars InSight burrowed beneath its surface in 2018 in order to study its interior structure.
Europe has made two attempts at landing on Mars: Beagle 2 in 2003 and ExoMars Schiaparelli in 2016. Both missions came close but ultimately fell short, although Elecnor DEIMOS is currently working on the Entry Descent and Landing phase of Elecnor DEIMOS’ 2022 Mars mission – so far.
What will it take to get there?
Sending people to Mars may seem an ambitious goal, but it can be accomplished step by step. First we must reach the Moon as soon as possible in order to develop technologies necessary for human missions to Mars.
Next, we must reach Mars orbit. The easiest way to do this is by launching at just the right moment; roughly every two years Mars and Earth come close enough together that reaching orbit requires much less fuel to do so.
One promising approach is photon propulsion, which uses lasers to accelerate spacecraft to near light speed. This approach could shorten travel times to Mars for robotic spacecraft to just three days; human missions would need significantly more fuel so finding ways to decrease rocket costs is crucial for their success.
How will we get there?
Since 1965, space agencies have sent spacecraft toward Mars in search of any signs of life – however only about half have ever made it there successfully due to an increasingly challenging journey.
Launching at the appropriate time is one of the keys to successfully reaching Mars. Planets do not travel in perfect circles and their distance from each other varies based on how close or far apart they orbit each other; roughly every 26 months, planets come closer together so launching missions to Mars requires less rocket fuel.
Another key is using the rover’s descent stage, with its eight engines to slow its landing and an onboard system for judging how close to land it will come. Furthermore, its plutonium battery provides energy that lasts 10 years or longer.
Curiosity landed on Mars in 2012 and has been conducting intensive studies of its landscape to look for signs of life, including organic compounds in soil from 3 billion-year-old mudstone, water-soaked environments and methane gas in its atmosphere.