The idea of visiting another planet is a really exciting one, and it’s possible that we may see it in our lifetimes. What would it be like to journey to Mars?
Traveling in space
For a long time, humanity had its sights set on the Moon. The Moon is the closest celestial body to us, at 363,104km at its perigee (closest approach to Earth) and 405,696km at its apogee (furthest from Earth). It would take about three days to get there in a spacecraft.
In 1959 the Soviet Union landed the first spacecraft on the Moon- Luna 2. The United States launched several crewed missions to the Moon in the 1960s and 1970s, called the Apollo programme. In 1969 Apollo 11 landed on the Moon and Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on its surface.
The minimum distance to Mars, though, is 281.84 million km! With our current technology it would take six to eight months to get to Mars, depending on when the trip was taken. The orbits of the Earth and Mars are elliptical (not perfectly circular), which accounts for this difference.
The trip to Mars
Imagine you are taking this long journey. You would need enough oxygen, medical supplies, water and food to sustain yourself. What would you do for fun?
Food would need to be shelf-stable, meaning it can be safely stored outside of a fridge for a long period of time. You could bring things like dried beans and freeze-dried meat, but it might be a while before you had fresh fruit again.
Steps would need to be taken to combat the negative health effects of being weightless for a long period of time. The spaceship would need to be shielded from the cosmic radiation that exists in space.
Arriving on Mars
If you were to visit Mars, you would need to wear protective clothing and equipment that would allow you to breath oxygen, keep you warm or cool depending on the temperature, and to protect you from solar radiation.
You would need to adjust to the lower gravity on Mars, too- it is 62.5% lower than Earth’s. If a person weighing 100kg were to stand on the surface of Mars, they would only weigh 38kg. You can calculate how much you would weigh on Mars by multiplying your weight by 0.376.
What would you see once you arrived on the planet? Mars’s surface material is mostly made of iron oxide (rust), making it appear red. Other minerals are present that would make your surroundings look golden, yellow, brown or sometimes black.
If you’re interested in learning more about the difference between Earth and Mars, check out these infographics created by NASA.
Landmarks to visit
You might visit Olympus Mons, the tallest mountain in our solar system and a giant shield volcano that is thought to still be active!
Olympus Mons forms part of an ancient volcanic plateau- a wide, flat area of ground that is higher up than the rest of the land- that includes three other volcanoes. These volcanoes are so high that they stand above the dust storms that can cover the whole planet.
You might visit one of the polar regions, which are covered in ice all year. This ice is different to Earth’s- it is comprised of layers of water ice and dry ice (frozen carbon dioxide).
There is no sunlight at the poles during winter. When the sun returns in spring the dry ice sublimates, turning from solid straight to gas.
This creates immense pressure if it is underneath water ice, which melts more slowly, and can cause huge eruptions!
Mars has what is thought to be the largest canyon in our Solar System- the Valles Marineris. It is over 3,000km long, 600km across and 8km deep. Earth’s largest canyon, the Grand Canyon in the USA, is only 800km long, 30km across and 1.8km deep!
These are some of the more dramatic geological and climatic features you might see, but there are sure to be interesting sights all around you.
Due to Mars’s lower gravity, more fragile rock formations are able to exist. You might see some truly weird-looking rocks!