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 get a bit boring. After a few hours, you just want to be there already!

If you’re bored by long trips, though, you might not want to be an astronaut. Traveling to outer space requires 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 long way away.

Like Earth, Mars revolves around the Sun, although on a different path than Earth does. Every 26 months, Mars reaches a point at which it’s as close as it ever gets to Earth. This point is called opposition and, at opposition, Mars is 34.6 million miles away.

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 they can get. At conjunction, Mars is almost 250 million miles from Earth.

Obviously, if you want to travel to Mars, it would be best to do so at the point of opposition, when Mars is “only” nearly 35 million miles away. That is why rocket scientists time their unmanned missions to Mars to coincide with opposition windows every 26 months. The next opposition window will be in April 2014.

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

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

Maybe the factor hardest to predict, though, is the psychological effect astronauts might suffer as a result of isolation from Earth. No one is really sure what mental stress would be caused due to lack of contact with the friends and family the astronauts leave behind.

Other barriers to such a manned mission to Mars include fuel for such a long trip, as well as oxygen, water, and food for astronauts on such an extended mission. Unfortunately, Mars has a very thin atmosphere that would not normally support human life.

Despite these difficulties, countries around the world are planning for future manned missions to Mars. In 2004, the U.S. identified a manned Mars mission as a long-term goal. In 2007, NASA stated that it hopes to put a man on Mars by 2037.

Are you up for a future mission to Mars? You never know what technology will be developed between now and then. Some scientists believe that advanced engines powered by nuclear energy could shorten the trip to Mars to only 39 days. Can you imagine how fast that spaceship would be traveling?

41 Join the Discussion

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    • You’re right, Emma! But, we think it would be a FUN trip seeing all the cool stuff in space as you pass by! Thanks for “flying by” Wonderopolis today! :-)

    • Those are very cool images, Duane! Mars looks like a rocky, sandy red desert! Thank you so much for sharing them with everyone! :-)

    • You’re right, David! Do you think you would like to take a trip that lasted over a year? We think it would be cool if we could look outside the window and see all the awesome things in space! :-)

    • Hi, Jonathan! Scientists believe a round trip to Mars and back would actually take a little over a year (400 to 450 days). We think that would be a super LONG trip to make, don’t you? What would YOU do if you could take a trip to Mars? :-)

    • What a super sweet thing to say, Kailee! That IS a really long time to leave your family. If we went on a year-long trip to Mars, we would miss all of our Wonder Friends (like YOU), too! :-)

  1. I think it would take a year and that is what y’all say it must be right……this means I am SOOOOOOOO SMART!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Hello, Annalisa! Thank you so much for your comment today! We really appreciate that you visited Wonderopolis and explored this Wonder of the Day® about how long it would take to fly to Mars! :-)

    • We agree with you, Jazmine! It would take some patience to fly to Mars! Thanks so much for sharing your comment with us today! :-)

  2. I would be the first to volunteer! While it is a long time, it would also be the trip of a life time! I am a submarine sailor, so I am already used to isolation and separation from my family for long periods of time. It would be like a longer deployment, with windows and an awesome stop in the middle!

    • We think it would be a super fun adventure, too, Walter! We also think it’s neat that you are a submarine sailor! That must be a really WONDERful and exciting profession! Thank you so much for sharing your comment with us today! :-)

    • WOW, thanks for sharing your comment today, Ed! We think traveling to space sounds like a WONDERful adventure! We like your enthusiasm and we’re happy you WONDERed with us today, Ed! :)

    • WOW, we’re not sure about the exact damage, Sydney, but we Wonder if you can do some research of your own to find out? We’d love to hear about what you find! Keep up the great WONDERing! :)

    • Tyler, you’ve made us smile again today! We come from a place called Wonderopolis– it’s a magical place full of wonder, laughter and fun! We hope you’ll visit us again! :)

    • We think it’s cool that you’re WONDERing with us today, Cole! Thanks for sharing your comment… we hope you learned about something new with us! :)

  3. If you wanted to go to Mars it would take a long time (about a year). Lots of fuel, a lot of oxygen tanks, food supplies, and water. Some people get claustrophobic and that wont be to fun to be with someone like that in a small space craft.

    • We think it’s awesome that you want to travel to Mars, Wonder Friend Nate! Since it can take a while to get to Mars, it’s a good idea to bring some things to keep you busy! Don’t forget, you can star gaze from your spaceship, too! We are so glad you’re using your imagination, Nate! NICE WORK! :)

    • You’re quite right, Myrtez, it would take more than 260 days! Check out the excerpt below for more information:

      “If you dream of one day being an astronaut on the first manned flight to Mars, be prepared for a long trip. Scientists estimate a round-trip to Mars and back would take 400 to 450 days.

      Would you be willing to spend more than a year in a spacecraft just to get to Mars and back? You could be saying “Are we there yet?” for months on end! Plus, what would you pack?” :)

  4. I think in the middle of the travel..you’ll be out of food..water and stuff..but if you realy want..WELL ITS YOUR TRIP FOR A LIFETIME…haha…A SCARY TRIP! … I’d rather spend a year here with my family than to go to an unsure travel…but we don’t know! Technology is getting better every day… maybe they will discover at last the teleporter! It will take us to Mars in just seconds..MAYBE A THOUSAND YEARS FROM NOW :)

  5. Um… I don’t think I would want to go to Mars, anyway, can I ask a question??? Who’s the person replying to all of the comments??? ;)

    • Hi Anna, you’re doing a great job of WONDERing with us. Perhaps you can help astronauts travel to Mars by working on the NASA team in the control station! They help guide the astronauts when they are in space!

      There are lots of Wonder Friends who enjoy reading and replying to comments. We all take turns! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • How long would it take to fly to Mars?
  • How far away is Mars from Earth?
  • What challenges does a manned mission to Mars present?

Wonder Gallery

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Try It Out

Ready to do some deeper exploration of Mars? Ask a friend or family member to join you as you journey forth to explore 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. Jump online to check out the Mars Exploration Rovers Images gallery. You can also explore cool Mars images at MarsQuest Online. If you prefer moving images, you can watch several Mars Exploration Rovers videos about the rovers and the challenges of getting to Mars!
  • Knowing what you now know about Mars and how long a trip to the red planet might take, would you go if you had the chance? Why or why not? If you’re unsure, that’s understandable. There would be a lot of things to think about. What factors would you consider important in making your decision? Make a pro/con list for a possible trip to Mars. Pro/con lists set forth the positive aspects (the pros) and the negative aspects (the cons) of a potential decision. What would excite you about a trip to Mars? Adventure? Fame? Discovery? For budding scientists, a trip to Mars could certainly have a long list of positives. What do you think you would find once you got there? Will there be any plants or animals there? Aliens? Or is Mars just a bunch of red rocks? What would worry you about such a trip? Leaving friends and family behind? Loneliness? Danger? The unknown? When you have your pro/con list finished, weigh the positive aspects against the negative aspects. Do the potential benefits outweigh the concerns? We’d love to know what you decide and why. Email or send us a note to Wonderopolis HQ to let us know whether you’d go to Mars or not.

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Louisville, KY 40202

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  • What will it take to live on Mars? That’s the question posed by Imagine Mars, a national arts, science and technology initiative that challenges young people to imagine and design a livable Mars community of the future. If you’re up for a challenge, take some time to explore the Imagine Mars website. You’ll learn all sorts of interesting facts about Mars and the challenges humans would face to live there on a permanent basis. Can you design a community of the future that could overcome these challenges?

Still Wondering

Check out EconEdLink’s Destination: Mars lesson and think through all the preparation you will have to go through in order to have a safe and successful mission to Mars!

 

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Tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day takes a closer look at some long, lustrous hairs!

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