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

Syrian Rebels Poised for Anti-Russia Collaboration

Forty-one insurgent groups issue joint statement vowing retaliation for Russian air offensives More

Political Maneuver Revives Export-Import Bank's Chances

Parliamentary tactic gets bill out of committee, but it faces opposition in the Senate More

Beijing Warns US on S. China Sea Patrols

Warning follows news reports Thursday that US military is planning to sail warships close to artificial islands Beijing has been aggressively building More

This forum has been closed.
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.
House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdrawsi
Jim Malone
October 09, 2015 12:32 AM
The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

VOA Blogs