Science & Technology

Mars: How to Get to Mars

Chris Hadfield

Lesson time 20:07 min

Chris explains the technical and societal challenges we face in traveling to Mars, including the ideal flight path required, the physics of slowing down and landing, and the risk of human life.

Chris Hadfield
Teaches Space Exploration
In 28+ lessons, the former commander of the International Space Station teaches you the science of space exploration and what the future holds.
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Getting to Mars isn't only a technical problem. It's also sort of a human societal problem. Not just how do we go to Mars, but why would we go to Mars? And what sort of cost and risk is associated? Right now, we can barely put robots on Mars. And we fail almost as often as we succeed, because it's still brand new, and the distances are so enormous, and the technology is still so primitive. But it's still worthwhile. We're learning about the history of how planets form. We're learning about what is normal for planets. It teaches us about the Earth to see what a different planet head as its history. Why doesn't Mars have oceans? Why doesn't Mars have a magnetic field? Why is Mars the way it is, even though it's the same age as the Earth, and not too much different in size than the Earth, why has Mars had such a different past in the Earth? And what does that mean for us in the long term health and life of our own planet? We learn a lot of science by having sent probes and rovers to Mars. But right now, it is still staggeringly complex to send people to Mars, and with complexity comes risk. It's maybe equivalent to sailing the oceans of the world in the 1400s. People had been in ships and dug out canoes and boats for centuries. We understood how boats worked, but we didn't know how to navigate the world. We didn't have good time pieces in order to be able to figure out what our longitude was. We didn't realize what food you needed to bring, and so many of the early crews were sickened or even killed with scurvy, a thing that happens when you don't know enough vitamin C in your diet. It was dangerous. We lost crews, even though we had boats, and we even had sailing ships, we were not yet ready to sail the oceans of the world. That's sort of where we are in space exploration right now. We have spaceships. We've successfully built a space station orbiting the world. We've sent probes right at the very edge of our capability, with people board, as far as the moon. But the oceans between us and Mars are still staggeringly huge. And if we started firing people off to Mars right now, we could very much expect, just like the early explorers 600 years ago, that we would kill most if not all of them. When Magellan and his crew, the first crew to circumnavigate the world launched out of Spain in the early 1500s, they launched with five ships and 250 people. And after three years, only one ship made it back, with like 18 people on board. Everybody else died in the effort, and they lost four out of five ships. And we just need to decide is it worth it right now to go to Mars with those type of terrible odds and those enormous consequences? But now, you can get on an airplane in Spain and fly to Australia, and you don't even think about it. The risk is extremely low. The distance has stayed the same. The actual numbers of the challenge have not changed at all. The distance from Spain to Australia, the atmosphere is still there, the oceans are s...

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Impossible things happen. At age nine, Chris Hadfield knew he wanted to go to space. He eventually went there three times, becoming a commander of the International Space Station. In his MasterClass, Chris teaches you what it takes to explore space and what the future holds for humans in the final frontier. Learn about the science of space travel, life as an astronaut, and how flying in space will forever change the way you think about living on Earth.


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This man is a true hero. Inspirational doesn't begin to describe it. Very in depth.

Totally learned the most amazing things from him. Loved it.

I just started experiences the effects of this potent waterfall of information. It boosted my energy to accomplish my own dreams : #galacticInspiration thank you!!!!

Chris has inspired me to continue to follow my own dreams of being an astronaut, but more importantly i think, he has taught me important life lessons and ways to think along my path. As a first year engineering student this has given me the push i need to strive in my career. Thank you Chris and Thank you MasterClass


Alexis P.

What would happen if we simply stepped in Mars's orbit (and accelerate a little in precisely the opposite direction the planet is heading to?) waiting for the planet to pick us up? Sort of like waiting for a train at a station, but instead of waiting on the platform, we waited on the railway racks instead. Wouldn't its atmosphere simply pick us up? We'd obviously have to apply several burns to get some matching speed and facilitate the pick-up but seems much more fuel-efficient than orbiting around it. Is this stupid and dangerous or just stupid? :) I mean Mars goes at 54.000 miles. We can do that, or half of it, since it's atmosphere will pick us up like a life net until we match the speed of the planet and then the gravity will pull us down. But at that point, wouldn't we already be low enough for an easy landing?

Lauren C.

Question at minute 8 about the speed the rocket travels in space. The video mentioned 25x the speed of sound, but what is the speed of sound in space? I “know” that space has been referred to as a vacuum, but I also know that it is filled with dark matter. Is that the medium used to measure the speed of sound in space? If that’s correct, what is 25x the speed of sound in space? It would absolutely be different than if measured on earth. Interested to know if anyone can clarify!

Ugo A. D.

Orbital mechanics is rather complex. Puts things into perspective when traveling out in the deep reaches of space. Read the book "Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy". I wish those space travellers well.

Karim E.

We could use a combination of chemical rockets for their fast acceleration and then ion drives for their low fuel consumption. Since ion drives are slow to accelerate (takes two days to reach 55 mph) but have a fast maximum speed (Mars in 39 days instead of 6 months), we would also use a thrust reverser for deceleration like modern jetliners which basically just re-routes the force of the propellant in an opposite direction. You're welcome, NASA. :)


How complex. But the way Chris describes all of this is easier to comprehend. He has such a perfect way to explain everything h has experienced. I have so much respect for the men and women who have made the adventures.


Just spit-balling here... if transit to Mars is quick when you don't have to worry about slowing down, then why slow down at all? What if we created a mother-ship scenario? Then transit back is easily handled as well (yes, I realize NONE of this would be easy). Essentially, you get your main ship into a big, fast orbit (around the Sun, Earth, Mars or what ever the giant NASA brains work out), and when you get close to Mars you drop off a smaller crew ship, and separate supply ship(s), and they land on Mars while the mother-ship continues on in it's big, fast orbit. The small crew ship lands with rockets, and the supply ship(s) are bounce landed. Then when it's time to come back to Earth, you fly the crew ship back to the mother ship and ride home. When close to Earth, the crew ship is again dropped off. The mother-ship would always remain in it's orbit, able to be resupplied and crewed whenever it passed by either planet. You're welcome (lol).


I wonder how the discovery of the large underground lake today will influence future plans to visit Mars

Kevin H.

can we just like build a space ship in space? so we can carry more fuel and payload and do not need to launch from earth against its gravity and all

Vickie R.

Fascinating discussion just wish I would have known all this before I tweeted the President of the United States and asked him if we could "Colonize Mars!" LOL, And here I had my space suit all picked out. So in short, looks like I won't be going to MARS anytime soon so I think I'll go out right now and get a MARS candy bar instead? Loved this class. The most flying I'll be doing is in a few weeks to WDC and then Florida. I couldn't even tolerate roller coasters as a kid without getting scared to death.

Andrew Stephen L.

My girlfriend has the greatest name for the future of Space Travel and the existence of colonization of our Galaxy and beyond...and of going to Mars because her name is Margo...or as I like to call her now....Marsgo!!! Yay!! She is Polish but has become Great British too now... she might be Marsgo Luck before too long if she plays her cards right! She is teaching me Polish and Russian! Preparing me to go to ISS... I heard I might be able to buy myself a seat if I have a spare $60 Million.... oh easy,I better start saving now though!!!!!!!! Chris H I had a great time learning about this stuff! I feel like a member of StarFleet Academy now! I would like if you could make a second version with Astronaught Training ideas..... I guess learning STEM subjects,being really fit,being fluent in English and Russian and learning to use tools and do Scuba diving are some of the best directions I could follow for now-and show my kids when I have them.... but what else? Sure you have lots of ideas! 💡 x but what’s in the Astronauts pockets regarding going to Mars and beyond? I’d be interested to know and I’m sure many others would too!x WeLoveYouChrisHadfieldx