It is tricky to calculate the exact amount of time taken to reach the Moon as it depends on the path you take and the vehicle you use. 

You may have already learned in school that our nearest neighbor in space is the Moon and you may have also noticed that on certain days in a month, it appears much brighter and clearer. But have you ever wondered how long it would take you to reach the Moon?

There are actually two answers to this question. The short and straightforward one is that it would take around 3 days. However, if you are not satisfied with that, there is a longer and thought-provoking one for you, it depends on two factors, the lunar distance and the mode of transportation.

Over the course of time, mankind has made several attempts to conquer the Moon by sending both astronauts and machines into space. While some consume a very long time, others were surprisingly fast. Causing this varying in the travel time is the fact that there is a countless numbers of paths that can be taken to reach the lunar surface. Moreover, different modes of transportation, even similar ones, travel at different speeds and thus, would impact the timespan.

So if you want to find out more on how these factors affect the amount of time taken to reach the Moon, continue reading! 

How far away is the Moon from the Earth?

When studying the distance between the Moon and the Earth, one must consider the fact that no planetary orbit is perfectly circular. Yet, space experts can evaluate how close to a perfect circle a planet’s travel path is by calculating its eccentricity. This quantity measures the degree of circularity deviation and is expressed as a number between 0 and 1. An eccentricity value of 0 means that the orbit takes the shape of a perfect circle and the closer the value is to 1, the more eccentric the orbit is. The Moon has an eccentricity value of 0.05, meaning that it is elliptical.

Another factor that one should look into when investigating the lunar distance is the location of the Earth in relation to the Moon. Different from what many people think, the Earth does not lie at the very center of the Moon’s orbit, but it rather locates at one of the foci of its elliptical path.

The time taken to reach the Moon is dependent on the travel path
Distance from the Earth of the Moon when it is at apogee and perigee

As shown in the picture above, the Earth is closer to one vertex of the orbit than the other. The closest point to Earth on the orbit is called the perigee and when the Moon is at this point, the lunar distance is at its minimum, which is about 363,300 kilometers. The point farthest away, on the other hand, is termed the apogee and the distance between this point and the Earth is approximately 405,500 kilometers. These two values give an average of 384 400 kilometers.

This is no doubt an enormous number so if you have difficulties imagining it, let’s have a look at the following example. The longest continuous and drivable distance on Earth is the road trip from Sagres in Portugal to Khasan in Russia, spanning 14,043 kilometers. This trip would take you around 6 days and 19 hours to finish.

The average distance of the Moon from the Earth is 384 400 kilometers, which is about 27 times longer than the Sagres-Khasan journey. This means that if you want to cover the distance between the Earth and the Moon by car, you would have to travel the Sagres-Khasan distance 27 times, which would consume you more than 6 months of driving non-stop!

How long did past missions take to reach the Moon?

At different points throughout the history, many countries have successfully organized missions to the Moon and interestingly, the time taken by all of them varied significantly. This is likely due to the fact that the means of transit were different for each mission.

Unmanned Missions

NASA’s New Horizon Pluto mission: 8 hours 35 minutes

So far, the record for the fastest trip to the Moon is held by NASA’s New Horizon Pluto mission. This was an unmanned mission, which means that it was launched into space without human on board. The space probe was powered by its Atlas V rocket, allowing it to reach a speed of over 16 kilometers per second (58,000 kilometers per hour) and make it to the Moon in only 8 hours and 35 minutes.

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NASA’s New Horizon Pluto

Soviet Union’s Luna 1: 34 hours

The second fastest mission was the Soviet Union’s Luna 1, of which journey took only 34 hours. This mission was known as the first ever attempt of mankind to reach the Moon and even though, the spacecraft was probably the most basic and it was only able to fly past the vicinity of the Moon, its journey was still considered as the most pioneering. In order to arrive at the Moon in less than 2 days, the spacecraft must have been traveling at an average speed of 10,500 kilometers per hour.

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Soviet Union’s Luna 1

ESA SMART-1 lunar probe: 1 year, 1 month and 2 weeks

The slowest trip belongs to the European Space Agency ESA SMART-1 lunar probe, which was actually constructed using one of the most advanced technologies out of all spacecraft. Although the SMART-1 probe took the longest, it was super fuel efficient, hence, after spending 1 year, 1 month and 2 weeks  in space, it finally arrived at its destination.  

Artists impression of the SMART 1 mission ESA199399
ESA SMART-1 lunar probe

Manned Missions

Apollo missions

The only manned lunar mission in the history were the Apollo missions which was started with the Apollo 11 mission in 1969. There is no doubt that this Moon landing is the most well-known as Neil Armstrong, commander of the Apollo 11, became the first man to step foot on the lunar surface. Yet, the trip does not become famous only because of its commander, but it is also known as the fastest manned mission, taking just 51 hours and 49 minutes.

How Long Would It Take You To Reach The Moon?

It is obvious that the amount of time taken to get to the Moon depends on which path the flight takes and what kind of spacecraft is chosen. Some spacecraft take only 2 to 3 days to reach the lunar surface while others may need longer.

In the future, when space tourism becomes a thing, you actually have a range of traveling methods to choose from. But make sure you make a smart decision because the trip can get very lengthy and trust me, spacecrafts can never be as comfortable as your bed!

You may also want to read about: https://susitv.net/2020/05/01/differences-between-asteroids-comets-meteoroids/

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