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

WHO: Anti-Ebola Efforts Should Focus on West Africa

Official says WHO is 'reasonably confident' countries bordering those hardest hit by the Ebola outbreak are not seeing the virus crossing their borders More

South Sudan Crisis Threatens Development

Economic costs and lost development opportunities in South Sudan have erased what little progress the country has made since independence in 2011 More

Ukrainian PM Warns: Russia May Try to Disrupt Sunday Poll

Arseniy Yatsenyuk orders full security mobilization for parliamentary election to prevent ‘terrorist acts’ from being carried out 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.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid