NASA’s Curiosity rover has reportedly discovered radiation levels on Mars are low enough for humans to survive, granted they stay alive during the six-month journey to the Red Planet.
In a press conference on Friday, top NASA officials say recent data obtained by the one-ton rover shows radiation levels on Mars are low enough for humans. According to NASA, the rover linked rhythmic changes in radiation to daily atmospheric changes, finding levels low enough to sustain a two-year mission to Mars.
“Absolutely, astronauts can live in this environment,” said Don Hassler, of Boulder, Colorado’s, Southwest Research Institute. Mr. Hassler is the principal investigator for Curiosity’s Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD).
“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,” Mr. Hassler said.
The Colorado radiation expert said data collected by Curiosity shows that the thin atmosphere of Mars does provide protection from solar radiation.
“We see a definite pattern related to the daily thermal tides of the atmosphere,” Mr. Hassler said.. “The atmosphere provides a level of shielding, and so charged-particle radiation is less when the atmosphere is thicker. Overall, Mars’ atmosphere reduces the radiation dose compared to what we saw during the flight to Mars.”
That said, it remains unclear whether astronauts traveling to the planet would experience an increased risk in the event of solar flare. Flares are comprised of millions of charged particles that could leave astronauts exposed to high amounts of radiation.
The news was met with enthusiasm among a community of Mars enthusiasts. While the findings are likely to increase the odds of a manned mission to Mars, humans would still experience higher levels of radiation on the way to and from the Red Planet.
The findings was part of an upcoming mission in which Curiosity will attempt to discern whether atmospheric conditions could have created an environment favorable to life. Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) monitoring of air pressure has tracked both a seasonal increase and a daily rhythm. Neither was unexpected, but the details improve understanding of atmospheric cycles on present-day Mars, which helps with estimating how the cycles may have operated in the past, according to NASA.
Scientists say the data collected by the rover could allow them to better understand past atmospheric conditions on the planet. An understanding of past conditions could provide further evidence whether the planet once harbored life.
The overall goal of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission is to use ten instruments on Curiosity to assess whether areas inside Gale Crater ever offered a habitable environment for microbes.
JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the project for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington, and built Curiosity.