The big glowy planetary body in the night sky is captivating. For years, human beings have been preoccupied with learning more about the celestial body and have endeavored to reach its surface.
Exactly how long does it take to get to the Moon? This article will give you an answer to that. Let’s get started!
How Long Does It Take To Get To the Moon?
Moon is Earth’s closest celestial neighbor. Our fascination with the natural satellite has spanned over several hundreds of years. As technology advanced, man took the first steps toward exploring the lunar surface.
It is an expensive and challenging endeavor to reach the Moon. However, it has not stopped us from rising to the challenge. The first attempt was made in 1958. Over the following years, several failed attempts were made before a mission finally succeeded.
There are several factors that influence how long it takes to get to the lunar surface or orbit around the Moon. If we consider an average duration, then it takes about three days to get to our natural satellite.
The Moon is Earth’s only natural satellite. For thousands of years, humans have been observing Moon and tracking changes. It is only in recent times, with advancements in technology, that we have been able to make significant progress in our knowledge about the celestial object.
It is only the planetary body that man has visited from Earth. Following the first human steps on the Moon in 1969, there have been several other manned missions to the surface.
The Moon’s atmosphere is different from Earth and its gravity is much lower than ours. There are many more mysteries yet to be unmasked about the crater-covered body. The missions in the future will help us shed more light on the various aspects of the Moon and resolve many of our queries.
Which Factors Affect the Time It Takes to Get to the Moon?
When we glance up at the sky, it may seem like the Moon is the same size as the Sun. However, it appears so because of how close the Moon is to the Earth. The close proximity of the lunar body makes it the only celestial body in the solar system whose surface features we can see with our naked eye.
The distance of the Moon in relation to Earth varies depending on where it is in the lunar orbit. When the Moon revolves around the Earth, it takes an elliptical trajectory. Its mean eccentricity is 0.0549. This trajectory means the satellite can be closer to Earth on one side than the other.
When the Moon is closest to our planet, it is nearly 226,000 miles away. On the other hand, during its furthest approach, it is around 252,000 miles away. The difference between the closest and furthest approaches is nearly four Earths!
The average distance of the Moon from Earth is 238,855 miles.
There are several factors that impact the duration of a journey from Earth to the Moon. One of them is the distance between the two celestial bodies. Besides distance, the following factors are also considered.
- What type of propulsion system has been selected?
- What is the chosen itinerary?
- Will the spacecraft land on the lunar surface? Will it simply orbit the Moon? Is the spacecraft flying by the Moon toward another distant target?
- Are there any crew members on the spacecraft?
For instance, if a spacecraft traveled at a maximum speed of 37,500 mph during lunar perigee (distance from Earth is 221,500 miles), then it would take the craft about 6 hours to reach the Moon.
If the spacecraft traveled at the same speed during the lunar apogee (distance from Earth is 252,700 miles), it would take the craft 6 hours and 42 minutes to reach the lunar surface.
How Long Does It Take a Crewed Spacecraft to Get to the Moon?
As technology advanced, it allowed us to plan crewed missions to the Moon. The first crewed mission was Apollo 8. The spacecraft carried astronauts James Lovell Jr., Frank Borman, and William Anders.
The spacecraft launched on December 21, 1968, and orbited the Moon ten times before returning back to our planet on December 27, 1968. It covered a total distance of 579,606.9 miles in six days, three hours, and 42 seconds.
The following year, the infamous crewed landing on the lunar surface took place. Apollo 11 carried astronauts Michael Collins, Neil Armstrong, and Buzz Aldrin to the Moon’s surface for the very first time.
On July 16, 1969, the spacecraft launched from the Kennedy Space Center. It took the manned spacecraft 75 hours and 49 minutes to land on the Moon. Apollo 11 made its historic Moon landing on July 20, 1969.
However, of all the lunar missions conducted, the Apollo 8 mission steals the record for achieving the shortest travel time with crew onboard. It took only 69 hours and 8 minutes to reach the Moon.
So far, NASA’s Apollo program has achieved six lunar landings. While other nations have conducted unmanned spacecraft landings and orbital placements, none have been successful in landing astronauts on the Moon. The United States is the sole achiever of this accomplishment.
There are variations in the time taken for each Apollo spacecraft to reach the Moon. This is because of various reasons.
- What was the purpose of the mission? Some missions were only meant to orbit the satellite. They were not meant to land on the Moon.
- NASA was constantly in the testing and research phase. They wanted to determine the best possible trajectory to launch a spacecraft or probe.
- Some missions were unmanned. Some missions carried crew. Others carried heavy equipment like the lunar rover. These launch mass variations affected the duration it took the craft to reach the Moon.
While Apollo 8 was the first and the quickest mission to Moon, Apollo 17 was the final crewed Moon landing. It also took the longest time to reach the lunar surface (86 hours and 14 minutes).
How Long Does It Take an Unmanned Spacecraft to Get to the Moon?
As mentioned above, travel duration varies due to multiple factors. Even unmanned spacecraft do not have consistent travel times. The length it takes to reach the lunar surface depends on whether it is a flyby, orbital placement, or surface landing.
Luna 1, a Soviet lunar probe, launched on January 2, 1959, was the first to fly out of Earth’s gravity. The mission to impact the lunar surface was unsuccessful. However, it became the first artificial object to revolve around the Sun.
The subsequent Luna 2 mission impacted the moon. It took the unmanned craft 36 hours to crash land on Moon. In 1964, the United States launched Ranger 7. The lunar impact took two days, 20 hours, and 35 minutes.
Of all the missions, NASA’s New Horizons holds the record for the fastest flyby. The probe accelerated at a speed of 36,373 mph and flew by Moon in 8 hours and 35 minutes.
Among unmanned lunar missions, the slowest is that of ESA’s SMART-1 probe. This probe launched from Earth on September 27, 2003. It took the probe an entire year, one month, and two weeks to reach Moon.
Though the Smart-1 probe was slow, it was the most fuel-efficient craft by far.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does Moon Have Its Own Atmosphere?
Moon does have its own atmosphere. However, this atmosphere is different from Earth’s atmosphere. The lunar atmosphere consists of unusual gases like potassium and sodium.
The atmosphere is very tenuous. Due to the low gravity on Moon, these gases easily escape into space.
Does Moon Create Its Own Light?
In our night sky, the Moon is the brightest celestial body. However, this brightness is a result of the light being reflected from the sun. The Moon does not produce its own light.
During its 29-day cycle, we see different phases of the moon. These visible phases are a result of the angle at which the sun’s rays illuminate the lunar surface.
What Is the Length of a Day on the Moon?
Moon’s axial rotation speed is very slow. It takes the natural satellite nearly 27.3 Earth days to complete one axial rotation. This duration is the same as it takes to finish one rotation around the Earth.
The duration it takes a spacecraft to reach the lunar surface is dependent on several factors. If we take an average calculation for a manned spacecraft, it requires at least three days to reach the Moon. An unmanned craft can reach sooner or later, depending on its mission objectives.
Lunar exploration has always fascinated us. We have come far in this sphere with the many advancements in technology. However, our last lunar landing happened nearly 41 years ago. Since then, no man or woman has stepped foot on the lunar surface.
Mankind gets ready to return to the Moon again with the upcoming Artemis mission. This mission will be the first to carry the first person of color and the first woman to the Moon.