Could we send a crewed mission to the outer planets? (Intermediate)

Is it possible for NASA to send astronauts to planets like Jupiter or Saturn? How long it would take? Do they have conditions for prospects of life?

Crewed missions to any of the outer planets would be extremely challenging. The planets themselves are known as gas giants because they are extremely big and have no solid surface! Humans would therefore not be able to land on them as there is nothing to land on! Flying in the upper atmosphere might be technically possible with a specially designed craft, but I think that it is safe to say that that is many years in our future.

These planets do have a lot of very interesting moons as well. Along with many small asteroid sized moons Jupiter has the four Galilean satellites (Io, Ganymede, Callisto and Europa) and Saturn has Titan. These moons might be places that humans will one day walk on, maybe even live on and would be extremely interesting destinations, both as bases to study the planets they orbit and in their own right. Most of the discussions of possible ET life in the outer solar system focus on these moons, particularly Europa and Titan - which would make them popular destinations I'm sure.

I am not aware of any NASA (or any other space agency) plans to even research sending humans to the outer planets. That is likely to remain the case until we (by this I mean the human race) have successfully sent humans to Mars and back to the Moon. There is unlikely to be any public support to fund planning for such mission until it has been shown that we can send people to closer planets first.

Using current technology it would take several years for a space craft to reach the outer planets. Even a trip to Mars, one of our closest neighboring planets, and the most Earth-like, would take several months to travel to and several months to get back (check out NASA's plans on this topic on their Journey to Mars page). The outer planets are many times further away than Mars, making a visit to them even more difficult.

Page last updated on August 10, 2017.

About the Author

Karen Masters

Karen Masters

Karen was a graduate student at Cornell from 2000-2005. She went on to work as a researcher in galaxy redshift surveys at Harvard University, and is now on the Faculty at the University of Portsmouth back in her home country of the UK. Her research lately has focused on using the morphology of galaxies to give clues to their formation and evolution. She is the Project Scientist for the Galaxy Zoo project.

Twitter:  @KarenLMasters