NASA: Astronauts could survive Mars radiation
Radiation on the surface of the Red Planet is roughly similar to that experienced by astronauts on the international space station, report NASA scientists. The findings help researchers understand the planet's capacity for supporting life and will assist NASA in preparations for future manned flights to the planet.
In Pictures Exploring Mars with Curiosity
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The rover's initial radiation measurements — the first ever taken on the surface of another planet — may buoy the hopes of human explorers who may one day put boots on Mars, for they add more support to the notion that astronauts can indeed function on the Red Planet for limited stretches of time.
Hassler is principal investigator of Curiosity's Radiation Assessment Detector instrument, or RAD. RAD aims to characterize the Martian radiation environment, both to help scientists assess the planet's past and current potential to host life and to aid future manned exploration of the Red Planet. [Video: Curiosity Takes First Cosmic Ray Sample on Surface]
Since Curiosity landed on Mars in August, RAD has measured radiation levels broadly comparable to those experienced by crewmembers of the International Space Station, Hassler said. Radiation at the Martian surface is about half as high as the levels Curiosity experienced during its nine-month cruise through deep space, he added.
The findings demonstrate that Mars' atmosphere, though just 1 percent as thick as that of Earth, does provide a significant amount of shielding from dangerous, fast-moving cosmic particles. (Mars lacks a magnetic field, which gives our planet another layer of protection.)
The $2.5 billion Curiosity rover is getting a bead on the nature of this shielding. RAD has observed that radiation levels rise and fall by 3 to 5 percent over the course of each day, coincident with the daily thickening and thinning of the Martian atmosphere, researchers said.
Hassler stressed that RAD's findings are preliminary, as Curiosity is just three months into a planned two-year prime mission. He and his team have not yet put hard numbers on the Martian radiation levels, though they plan to do so soon.