Yes, Alternate Modes Of Transportation Do Take As Long As You’d Think.

Quick notes:

  • Earth’s nearest neighbor isn’t really all that close.

  • Similar modes of transportation can still move at varying speeds and affect the trip’s time.

  • There’s more than one way to get to the moon. This affects trip times too.

Since the planet’s earliest days, the moon has been one of man’s deepest inspirations, and many have had the dream of traveling there. In the 1960s, a few highly trained, extremely fortunate men actually did it. They got there in a rocket paired with a lunar landing vehicle.

The trip on the rocket represented man’s highest levels of technology and fastest speeds. But what if things were different? How long does it take to get to the moon for a person using alternate forms of transportation such as driving their minivan, taking a bicycle or floating in a hot air balloon? We’ve got the details, and the knowledge is fascinating.

First, Let’s Talk About The Trip

Currently, a spacecraft-driven trip to the moon takes about 3 to 5 days from launch to landing. That includes the time to travel the entire 240,000 miles, a length which can vary based on the specific path that the earth-based flight crews choose for a particular expedition.

The trip length can vary for a couple of other reasons too. Sometimes, mission specialists determine that they need to use a specific type of spacecraft with a different speed that would slow the trip by quite a bit. For example, in 2003, a trip was initiated that took one year, one month, and two days. It remains the most fuel-efficient trip to the moon to date.

Taking A Minivan To The Moon

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So, let’s pretend for a minute that it was possible to drive to the moon, say, in a minivan. Sure, it would be the ultimate road trip, but how long would it take? Astronomer Fred Hoyle pointed out that at 60 mph it would take about an hour to drive out of the Earth’s atmosphere.

After leaving the Earth’s atmosphere, drivers would need to settle in for the long haul. The trip is approximately 10 times the distance of the circumference around the earth. It would be like driving around the world ten times. Not quick or easy, but it makes for a fascinating journey.

Bicycling To The Moon

If you want to take a trip to the moon by bicycle, things get a lot longer. If a light bicycle pace is considered to be 10 mph, it is pretty easy to do the math and compare a two-wheeled trip to an auto trip–everything multiplies by a factor of six. Six hours to exit the atmosphere and six times as long to get to the ultimate destination.

Keep in mind, this speed would be different depending on the cyclist. Lance Armstrong’s trip would almost certainly be faster than a lot of others.

How About A Hot Air Balloon?

Hot air balloons travel about as fast as the average cyclist who isn’t Lance Armstrong.

It is a beautiful thing to imagine a hot air balloon trip to the moon. Sure, it is as impossible as any of these other scenarios, but imagining a hot air balloon high above the clouds or in the stars isn’t a bad way to while away some time.

How long would it take? Hot air balloons travel about as fast as an average cyclist.  So, about five miles per hour. Wind conditions can affect this too. So, if you really want to think about the length of time, compare this trip’s duration to a cyclist’s timing, and you’d be set.

A deeper dive — Related reading from the 101:

1960’s Quake Data Reveals That The Moon Is Alive And Kicking | Science 101
That’s right. The moon has quakes too.

The Sole Woman In Mission Control Talks About The Apollo Missions | Science 101
Poppy Northcutt was the only woman in mission control during our country’s trips to the moon.