The Moon is our constant, nearby companion. How long does it take to get to the Moon?
We can see distant planets, stars, and galaxies with the naked eye, but it’s not the same as the Moon. The Moon is so close that we can see its shadows and craters, and it even affects the tides on Earth.
Given that the Moon seems so close to Earth, how long does it take to get to the Moon? What if you wanted to go to the moon?
Buckle up and strap into the space rocket because, today, we’ll talk about how long it takes to get to the Moon!
How Long Does It Take to Get to the Moon?
Everything is in motion in the night skies. Taking a time-lapse photograph of just a moment or two will result in a blurred image. Calculating how long it takes to get to the Moon requires consideration of several factors.
- The distance from the Earth to the Moon (it changes)
- How fast the spacecraft is traveling
How Far Away is the Moon from the Earth?
The Moon isn’t as close to Earth as it seems. The Moon is orbiting the Earth, and the Earth is orbiting the Sun. Gravity causes the Moon to move closer and farther away from the Earth.
The Moon doesn’t orbit the Earth in a perfectly circular orbit. The Moon moves further and closer to the Earth during its orbit around the Earth. At the perigee, the point in the Moon’s orbit when it’s closest to Earth, the Moon is around 225,623 miles (363,106 km) away.
The Moon is approximately 252,088 miles (405698 km) when it’s furthest from Earth. It takes longer to reach the Moon if you’re traveling with an apogee flight path.
How Fast is the Spacecraft Traveling?
A spacecraft must reach a speed of 25,200 miles per hour, or 7 miles per second, to escape the Earth’s gravity. If we calculate the time based on the perigee (225,623 miles) and the spacecraft speed (25,200 mph), we end up with 8.95 hours.
A theoretical calculation of nine hours is much faster than actual historical travel times to the Moon. Why is this so?
Traveling In A Straight Line
If we want our spacecraft to travel to the Moon as fast as possible, we must travel in a straight line. To travel in a straight line, we’ll need to travel faster. To travel faster, we’ll need more fuel. If we need more fuel, we need a larger spacecraft. Most spacecraft travel to the Moon in an orbital path, orbiting the Earth and then orbiting the Moon. Using the Earth and Moon’s gravitational fields, the orbital path allows the spacecraft to use less fuel. Less fuel equates to cost savings.
The type of mission being flown may impact the flight duration. An uncrewed mission requires a different safety consideration than a crewed mission requires. One-way missions (impactors) don’t need the same kind of equipment redundancies that orbiter missions require.
The chart below shows the flight durations of the Moon mission types over the past sixty-plus years.
|Mission Type||Name/Year||Flight Duration|
|Flyby||Luna-2 (Sept. 11, 1959)||1.5 days|
|Impactor||Luna-3 (Oct. 3, 1959)||3 days|
|Orbiter||LADEE (Sept. 7, 2013)||30 days|
|Lander/Rover||Luna 21 (Jan. 8, 1973)||4 days|
|Crewed Orbiter||Apollo 10 (May 18, 1969)||3.5 days|
|Crewed Orbiter/Lander||Apollo 17 (Dec. 7, 1972)||3.5 days|
|Sample Return||Luna 20 (Feb. 14, 1972)||4 days|
|Orbiter/Impactor||Smart 1 (Sept. 27, 2003)||13 months|
|Lander/Sample/Flyby/Return||Chang’e 5 (Nov. 23, 2020)||5 days|
|Lander||Luna-25 (Aug. 10 2023)||9 days|
|Lander/Sample/Flyby/Return||Chandrayaan (Aug. 3, 2023)||40 days|
A rough examination of the mission flight times in the chart above indicates that it takes around four days to reach the Moon if you’re in a hurry. Differing mission objectives may slightly improve the flight time or stretch it out.
India’s Chandrayaan-3 is the latest successful mission to land (successfully) on the Moon. India now joins the United States, China, and Russia. Russia’s Luna-25 recently crashed into the surface of the Moon.
What’s the Fastest Known Time to Reach the Moon?
Travel time to the Moon might be very quick, depending on your mode of transportation.
On January 19, 2006, the New Horizons mission launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. New Horizons sped past the Moon on its way to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt. Traveling past the Moon took New Horizons approximately 8 hours and 35 minutes.
The New Horizons mission plan is currently on the chopping block as NASA plans to reduce the budget and change the mission plan to reduce costs. Today, the New Horizons spacecraft is traveling through the Kuiper Belt.
Parker Solar Probe
How long does it take to get to the Moon if you’ve hitched a ride on the Parker solar probe? The Parker solar probe travels at approximately 364,660mph (586,800 kmh). We’d estimate that you make it from Earth to the Moon faster than you could maybe have pizza delivered — about 37 minutes.
A Trusty Pickup Truck
Suppose you jumped into your trusty pickup truck to drive to the Moon. Hopefully, you have a lot of vacation time! If you aim your truck toward the Moon and set the cruise control at 70 mph, you should arrive on the surface of the Moon in roughly 134 days. Of course, none of this is possible!
It takes light approximately 1.3 seconds to travel from the surface of the Moon to the Earth’s surface. Light travels at about 186,411 mph. If you could ride a sunbeam, you could travel from the Moon to the Earth in about the same amount of time it takes to blink your eyes.
Given our current technology, a reasonable conclusion about how long it takes to get to the Moon is between three and four days. Space agencies may slow down the rate of speed for a spacecraft to reach the Moon to carry out scientific data collection and save money.
The image featured at the top of this post is ©Elena11/Shutterstock.com.