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NASA MARS-BOUND ROVER BEGINS RESEARCH IN SPACE
from NASA, December 13, 2011 Tuesday

Pete Crow photograph of the launch of the Mars Science Laboratory, Saturday morning, November 26, 2011, from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

WASHINGTON — NASA’s car-sized Curiosity rover has begun monitoring
space radiation during its 8-month trip from Earth to Mars. The
research will aid in planning for future human missions to the Red
Planet.

Curiosity launched on Nov. 26 from Cape Canaveral, Fla., aboard the
Mars Science Laboratory (MSL). The rover carries an instrument called
the Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) that monitors high-energy
atomic and subatomic particles from the sun, distant supernovas and
other sources.

These particles constitute radiation that could be harmful to any
microbes or astronauts in space or on Mars. The rover also will
monitor radiation on the surface of Mars after its August 2012
landing.

“RAD is serving as a proxy for an astronaut inside a spacecraft on the
way to Mars,” said Don Hassler, RAD’s principal investigator from the
Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo.”The instrument is deep
inside the spacecraft, the way an astronaut would be. Understanding
the effects of the spacecraft on the radiation field will be valuable
in designing craft for astronauts to travel to Mars.”

Previous monitoring of energetic-particle radiation in space has used
instruments at or near the surface of various spacecraft. The RAD
instrument is on the rover inside the spacecraft and shielded by
other components of MSL, including the aeroshell that will protect
the rover during descent through the upper atmosphere of Mars.

The "days to launch" sign during the Shuttle missions was on State Road 3 but, surprise, for the Mars Science Laboratory launch it popped up just inside the State Highway 405 guard gate.

Spacecraft structures, while providing shielding, also can contribute
to secondary particles generated when high-energy particles strike
the spacecraft. In some circumstances, secondary particles could be
more hazardous than primary ones.

These first measurements mark the start of the science return from a
mission that will use 10 instruments on Curiosity to assess whether
Mars’ Gale Crater could be or has been favorable for microbial life.

“While Curiosity will not look for signs of life on Mars, what it
might find could be a game- changer about the origin and evolution of
life on Earth and elsewhere in the universe,” said Doug McCuistion,
director of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters in
Washington. “One thing is certain: the rover’s discoveries will
provide critical data that will impact human and robotic planning and
research for decades.”

As of noon EST on Dec. 14, the spacecraft will have traveled 31.9
million miles (51.3 million kilometers) of its 352-million-mile
(567-million-kilometer) flight to Mars. The first trajectory
correction maneuver during the trip is being planned for mid-January.

Southwest Research Institute, together with Christian Albrechts
University in Kiel, Germany, built RAD with funding from the Human
Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters,
Washington, and Germany’s national aerospace research center,
Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt.

The mission is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) for
the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The mission’s
rover was designed, developed and assembled at JPL.

Information about the mission is available at:

http://www.nasa.gov/msl

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