How Long Would it Take to Get to TRAPPIST-1?


From the fantasies of Star Wars and Guardians of The Galaxy to the growing advancements within NASA and SpaceX, space is pretty hot right now. With space being featured on the news so often these days, most of us have surely heard about TRAPPIST-1.

It’s an exciting, new discovery that might one day lead to us being able to study and even potentially colonize other planets.

How the Hell are we going to get to TRAPPIST-1?

TRAPPIST-1TRAPPIST-1 is a planetary system located about 12 parsecs from our Solar system, or about 39 light-years away. NASA just recently announced that this system has the most Earth-sized planets found in a habitable zone of a single star. Its sun is roughly 12 times less massive than our own, and there are at least seven rocky planets in its orbit. Since these planets are outside of our solar system, they are known as exoplanets.

So why is this so important?

Well, astronomers have found these exoplanets to be comparable to Earth not only in terms of size but also mass. Due to their distance from their sun and their sun’s temperature, scientists have deduced that the exoplanets receive an amount of light similar to the planets in our own solar system. NASA has reported that every one of these seven rocky worlds could have liquid water, which is the key to life as we know it.

As such, the exoplanets of TRAPPIST-1 are the best targets that scientists have discovered for studying the atmospheres of potentially habitable, Earth-sized worlds. It’s reasonable to think that one day we might be able to colonize and live on one of the exoplanets of TRAPPIST-1, but before that, we’d have to first figure out how to get there.

Is it even possible?

Well, since Trappist-1 is 39 light-years away, that means it would take 39 years to get to its current location if we could travel at the speed of light. However, no modern spacecraft even comes close to being that fast.

Even if a spacecraft could travel at that speed, we’d still have to worry about feeding the crew for those 39 years.

According to NASA, the average crew member eats about .83 kilograms of food per meal. That would mean that for every astronaut making the trip to TRAPPIST-1, traveling at the speed of light and eating 3 meals a day, the spacecraft would have to carry close to 30,390 kilograms, of food! But it’s not just food we’d have to worry about; water is an issue as well.

On Earth, the average person uses about 132 liters of water every day. These numbers aren’t just for drinking H2O, but everything a person does that uses water; like showers and toilets. Onboard the International Space station, astronauts have to limit their water use to about 11 liters of water a day since water is so heavy. Water is often produced on space shuttles as a byproduct from fuel cells. Simply put, fuel cells make electricity when hydrogen and oxygen are combined. When these atoms combine, they don’t just make electricity, but also water. This water is recycled and then used by astronauts. If fuel cells weren’t utilized on a ship that could travel at the speed of light, scientists would have to think of another way for their astronauts to get their water needs!

Considering that none of our spacecraft can travel at the speed of light, we did a few calculations to figure out how long it would currently take us to reach Trappist-1.

One of the fastest spacecraft to ever launch was NASA’s New Horizons back in 2006. New Horizons flew past Pluto in 2015 and is currently traveling out of our solar system at a rate of 51,500 kilometers per hour. At that rate, it would take 817,000 years to travel to TRAPPIST-1. Alternatively, NASA’s Juno spacecraft momentarily was able to fly faster than New Horizons during its approach to Jupiter when it clocked in at around 265,500 kilometers per hour. This makes it the fastest man-made object ever recorded, but even if a spacecraft could constantly travel at that speed, it would still take around 159,000 years to make the journey to TRAPPIST-1. Not to mention, both Juno and New Horizons were not manned spaceships.

NASA’s space shuttle was only able to travel around the Earth at a maximum speed of 25,920 kilometers per hour. That would make the trip take over a whopping 1.5 million years! Granted, different spacecraft might be able to go at different speeds depending on where they are at in space, but none of these speeds even come close to enabling humans to make the journey from our solar system to TRAPPIST-1.

One technology that could potentially make the trip a viable option in the future is the Breakthrough Starshot initiative. Advocated by the great Stephen Hawking, this program hopes to create tiny, laser-propelled probes that could theoretically travel as fast as 20 percent the speed of light, 60,000 kilometers per second. With that technology, it would take only around 200 years to get to TRAPPIST-1.

However, this has yet to come to pass, and even if it did, the program is only meant for a chip weighing about as much as a paper clip and the size of a postage stamp. Maybe Ant-Man could fit in there, but not the rest of us. Who knew Paul Rudd might be the greatest astronaut of our time! With the spacecraft and technology of today, there’s really no way anyone could make a trip to TRAPPIST-1 in his/her lifetime.

Do you think Mars is a much more likely candidate for colonization?