NASA says they’re going to make their way to Mars within the next decade (after re-visiting the moon again first), and Elon Musk has set his eyes on making the trip even sooner than that. One of the main reasons why Mars looks like a likely next target for most astronomers is that it’s within a relatively short distance from our planet. But just how far away from Mars are we? We’re going to take a quick look.
How many miles away is Mars from Earth?
Now, the answer is that on average, Mars is approximately 140 million miles from the planet Earth. However, this changes throughout each planets orbital period. Mars can be as close as only 33.9 million miles away at certain times of the year.
And on the other hand, Mars can also drift the other way from Earth, and can be as much as 250 million miles apart from each other. This occurs when the two are on opposite sides of the Sun to one another, which happens pretty regularly as Earth orbits the Sun around twice as fast as Mars does.
We can put the distance between Earth and Mars into more perspective but comparing it to the Earth’s distance to the Sun. The Earth is 1 AU, or astronomical unit, away from the Sun. On average, Mars sits around 1.5 AU away from our planet, but it can get as close as 0.4AU away. This means that Mars can come much closer to our planet than the Sun does (but not as close as Venus, which can be around 0.25 AU away depending on the time of the year).
How viable is the journey to Mars?
We’re actually pretty far away from Mars at the moment, so the journey is going to be as difficult as it’ll ever be. We’d need to travel around 2.5 AU to get to Mars, which is hundreds of millions of miles. This will get easier at certain points in time – currently, 2082 is pegged as being the point in the next century when the two planets are closest, less than 0.38 AU apart.
The weight of any spacecraft being launched into space is going to be the main concern for the journey between us and Mars. One of the biggest things we’d have to take into account is fuel for the journey there. This is a crucial part of any mission into space, as you’ll obviously need enough fuel to make the journey if the two planets are as far apart as they are now. SpaceX have talked about actually doing a separate launch with an additional rocket full of fuel and then refueling whilst already in space, which makes sense as it’d allow a lighter manned spacecraft.
In fact, there’s actually been talk of as many as 5 different spacecrafts being launched to carry both humans but also the necessary cargo too. Of course, once we do make it to Mars we need to make sure that we land on the planet safely as well. But in comparison to the rest of the journey, this is probably the easy part! You can check here for more planet Mars facts.
In conclusion, whilst not quite the closest planet to us here on Earth, at certain points in time we can come pretty close to the planet. Waiting for the opportune moment to travel to Mars is critical for the future, as it’d mean a much shorter travelling distance than when the two planets are apart. So whilst over the next few decades we’ll likely send a manned spacecraft to Mars, the opportune moment will actually occur in the latter part of this century.