I was reading a Space.com article on fifty years of human spaceflight and it contains a graphic entitled “How Far Into Space Have We Gone?” That got me thinking. The longest journey made by manned spaceships is to the moon (and back!) which is a distance of approximately 400,000 km. That’s a long way, but how does that really measure up against other potential astronomical targets?
Currently the Curiosity rover is exploring Mars, our nearest planetary neighbor. Currently Mars is approximately 100,000,000 km from the Earth. So by that measure, humans have traveled a miniscule 0.4% of the distance needed to reach Mars. Even in 2018, when Mars passes at one of its closest points, just 58,000,000 km, that figure only reaches 0.6% of the distance.
Pluto has traditionally been considered to mark the edge of our solar system. Although demoted to the status of “Dwarf Planet” it still offers an important measure. At its closest it lies approximately 4.2 billion km from Earth. So by this yardstick, we’ve only traveled 0.000095% of the distance to the edge of the solar system!
The recent discovery of the closest extra-solar planet orbiting Alpha Centauri B is approximately 4.3 light years from us. Using this as a measure, manned space exploration has reached just 0.000000093% of the way to our nearest extra-solar neighbor.
We still have a long way to go!
If we also look at our historical progress , manned flight in terms of distance looks like this:
- 1961 Yuri Gagarin : 240 km
- 1966 Gemini 11 : 1,370 km
- 1969 First Manned Moon Landing : 400,000 km
- 1972 Last Manned Moon Landing : 400,000 km
- 1981 Space Shuttle orbit : 620 km
- 1998 ISS Orbit : 410 km
- 2012 ISS Orbit : 410 km
Notice anything? Since 1972 no human being has traveled even 1000 km from Earth! In 40 years we’ve made exactly zero progress in manned space flight. In fact you could say that in terms of distance, we’ve barely started manned exploration of space.
Isn’t that so incredibly tragic?