News / Science & Technology

Curiosity Rover Helps Scientists Plan for Human Missions to Mars

Marks on Mars where Curiosity rover scooped dirt for analysis (NASA photo)
Marks on Mars where Curiosity rover scooped dirt for analysis (NASA photo)
Suzanne Presto
NASA's Curiosity rover is three months into its two-year mission on Mars as it investigates whether conditions there ever could have supported microbial life. Researchers are interested not only in ancient Mars but present-day Mars so they can plan future travel to the Red Planet.

In the past 12 weeks, the Curiosity rover has scooped up Martian soil, sampled the atmosphere, mapped wind and radiation patterns, and monitored changes in air pressure on Mars.  

The car-sized rover is exploring near the foot of a peak called Mount Sharp within a deep, 150-kilometer-wide depression called Gale Crater. The overall goal of NASA's $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory mission is to use Curiosity's 10 scientific instruments to learn if Mars ever offered a habitable environment for micro-organisms.  

NASA's Ashwin Vasavada, the deputy project scientist, told reporters that the mission is mostly focused on the habitability of ancient Mars.  But, he says, researchers also want to learn about the modern day environment there.    

"It's a pretty dynamic environment.  If you were standing next to Curiosity, you'd realize you're on a planet with an atmosphere -- an atmosphere that is thick enough that when the sun heats the ground every day, gusty winds rush up and down the slopes of Gale Crater and Mount Sharp and spawn whirlwinds that sweep across the landscape.  But the atmosphere isn't thick enough to shield you from the harsh ultraviolet light and the natural high-energy radiation coming in from space," Vasavada said.

Understanding the radiation is critical.  Curiosity is equipped with a Radiation Assessment Detector, known as RAD.  Don Hassler is the radiation detector's principal investigator.

"The radiation is a life-limiting factor to habitability, so we need to understand what the radiation is doing if we want to understand the prospects for both current and past habitability, but we also need to understand the radiation environment.   When we send astronauts to Mars in the future, we need to be able to fully understand what the radiation is doing so that we can help plan a safe mission for those astronauts," Hassler said.  

President Barack Obama has challenged the U.S. space agency to send humans to Mars in the 2030s.  

Hassler notes that NASA has established a career radiation-dose limit for astronauts.

"I think it's never really been a question of if we can go to Mars. It's a matter of when we go, how do we best protect our astronauts, so characterizing the radiation environment in terms of the types of radiation that we observe and when it's the worst and when we'd need to take precautionary measures, I think, is one of the things that we're learning from RAD," Hassler said.

Researchers say Curiosity is providing measurements that will help scientists design a human mission to the Red Planet.

You May Like

Turkey's Erdogan: Women Not Equal to Men

Speaking at conference in Istanbul, President Erdogan says Islam has defined a position for women: motherhood More

Ahead of SAARC Summit, Subdued Expectations

Some regional analysts say distrust between Pakistani, Indian officials has slowed SAARC's progress over the year More

Philippines Leery of Development on Reef Reclamation in S. China Sea

Chinese land reclamation projects in area have been ongoing for years, but new satellite imagery reportedly shows China’s massive construction project More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Changei
X
November 24, 2014 10:09 PM
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid