The moon has always been our nighttime guardian. It has been a source of poetry and music. We tend to make art about the moon because it seems so mysterious as it illuminates the night sky. Hence, it is fair to say that humanity has for centuries been asking the question: how long will it take to get to the moon? After all, when you see something as enchanting as the moon, you want to get as close to it as possible. Well, the answer to that question is a bit more complicated than you think.
The Distance We’d Have to Travel
To start with, we need to know how far away the moon is. If you try to calculate this, you will immediately begin to see why ascertaining the amount of time it would take to reach the moon is so difficult. This is because the distance of the Moon from the Earth tends to change according to its position in orbit. The lunar orbit isn’t a perfect circle. It’s elliptical which means that sometimes the moon is further away than at other points, this is actually what causes the tides because when the moon is closer, its gravity begins to impact the Earth’s oceans and pull them away from the shore.
We need a distance to calculate the amount of time this would take, though. A number that accurately reflects the data we need to make this calculation. Hence, for simplicity and efficiency, we are going to take the average of the various distances that the moon rests at during its elliptical orbit around the Earth.
At the perigee of its orbit, which means the point where the Moon is closest to the Earth, our silver satellite rests at about 356,500 kilometers away from the Earth. That’s just a hair short of 240,000 miles. At the apogee of its orbit, which is the point at which the moon is at its maximum distance from our planet, it goes all the way up to 406,700 kilometers away, over 252,700 miles! The average distance is thus about 385,000 kilometers which comes up to roughly 238,856 miles. Now that we know the distance, we now need to figure out how to get there!
How Long Does It Take in a Rocket?
The distance is not the only thing we need, of course. We also need to figure out how fast our spacecraft is going to be. If we were going in a school bus, it would take us 200 days of constant driving to get there, assuming we had a straight road with regular Earth friction on which to drive all the way to the moon! Since such a thing is impossible, let’s look at some more realistic spacecraft that have already made the voyage.
You probably know that humans have already been to the moon multiple times. These were referred to as the Apollo missions, and it took them three days to get to the Moon from the Earth! However, it is important to note that they didn’t exactly go there in a straight line. That would have required an enormous amount of fuel which would have made the project far too expensive, so instead they chose to be smarter about it, they used the Earth as a kind of slingshot.
Essentially what they did was that they launched themselves into Earth’s orbit, and after injecting themselves into the lunar orbit, they waited until they were at the right angle and then launched themselves outwards. There is no friction in space, so when an object starts moving at a particular speed, it will continue to travel in the same direction at the same speed until some other object, or perhaps the gravity of a celestial body, starts to impact it. This is exactly what happened with the Apollo missions. The rockets were launched out of orbit until they were caught in the orbit of the moon at which point they created friction to slow themselves down and subsequently landed to the Moon. It should be noted that the Moon was at its perigee when they approached, this was because they had timed it perfectly so that the journey would take as less time as possible.
However, this is not the shortest time that it has ever taken to get to the moon. We have gotten there a lot faster as well! For example! The New Horizons probe reached the Moon in a little over 8 hours, but it should be noted that the craft only passed by the Moon on its way to Pluto.
The Final Verdict
So, how long does it take to get to Moon? Well, the answer is that it depends on a lot of things. How far away the moon is, what kind of mission it is. If the spacecraft has people aboard it, then it will be a lot heavier and will need to be sent in the same manner as the Apollo missions. If the craft is just a probe, then it can be launched directly. Every day we move closer and closer to a future where we would be able to go to the Moon in increasingly short periods.
Would you take a trip to the Moon? What if it took three days? The journey is long, but human beings are used to long journeys. We used to travel for weeks on end to get from one continent to the other before the Industrial Revolution, and since the destination is the Moon we are probably going to be inclined to brave the voyage to see the gorgeous vistas that our trusty nighttime guardian will provide. Who knows, maybe someday there will be an actual resort on the Moon where we would be able to relax.