header image

Destination: Mars

Red Planet Bound

Temperatures on Mars range from -125 to 23 °F. The atmosphere is 95% carbon dioxide. Gravity is 2/5 of that which we experience on Earth. Despite the obvious extremes on the Red Planet, Mars is the most hospitable deep space environment accessible to humans for long duration missions. Scientists theorize that Mars cooled dramatically over time, but at one point could have supported liquid water and primitive life forms. Investigations on the fourth rock from the sun will help researchers better understand climate evolution, extraterrestrial biology, and planetary resources.

Travel Time

It depends on how you go, what kind of rocket is used and what technologies are available. With current technology, robotic missions usually take about 8 months to travel to Mars. NASA is exploring options that will minimize the duration of a human trip to Mars. How much fuel to get to Mars? It takes ~60 tons of gas (liquid Xenon) to get a crew of 4 to Mars and about 40 tons to get them home (the vehicle is lighter on the way home). That’s about 100 tons or roughly one railroad car full – but it has to be the right fuel! As you can imagine, there are a bunch of assumptions built into that answer; for instance: this does not include what it takes to get them down to the surface and back; you’d have to add another 40 tons (LOX/Methane) for that job.

NASA's Path to Mars

Mission Spotlight


NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida Nov. 26, 2011 and captivated the world with its dramatic Red Planet arrival Aug. 6 2012. The 2,000lb MSL rover, Curiosity, parachuted through the Martian atmosphere and was lowered to the surface by innovative crane technology. Each phase of the entry, descent and landing (EDL) was flawlessly orchestrated and demonstrated precision touchdown capabilities critical to future Mars sample-collection missions.

Curiosity is the largest, most technologically advanced rover ever deployed to investigate Martian terrain. The laboratory on wheels houses an impressive instrument suite including cameras, spectrometers, environmental sensors, and radiation detectors. From ancient environments to chemical composition, our rover geologist will analyze rocks and soil on the hunt for habitability clues. Curiosity will allow scientists to investigate if Mars once supported life and if it could again in the 2030s. The rover will travel 3 to 12 miles on the ultimate quest for answers in turn laying the foundation for astronauts of tomorrow to live and work on the Red Planet. Still Curious? Read more on our Space Systems page.

Still curious? Check out the MSL page!

Did You Know?

How big is Mars relative to our home planet?

½ Diameter of Earth. Though Mars is 1/2 the diameter of Earth, it is estimated to have about the same land area. Today a cold, desert world, Mars may have experienced flood events over 3.5 billion years ago. Current missions are investigating climatic shifts on the Red Planet.

Click To Reveal Answer