Mars rover now 31.9 million miles from Earth, begins research

As of 11 a.m CST today (16 UTC on December 14, 2011), NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover traveled 31.9 million miles of its 352-million-mile trip to Mars. That’s almost 1.8 million miles per day. After 18 days of traveling following its November 26 launch, Curiosity is now analyzing radiation in space. These tests assess how radiation would effect astronauts en route to the red planet.

NASA expects the rover and its 10 science instruments to reach Mars on Aug. 6, 2012.

Curiosity’s Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) will monitor high-energy atomic and subatomic particles. The sun and other objects in outer space emit these particles. The particles zipping through space present a danger to humans attempting long-term space travel. Once on Mars, the RAD instrument – which is buried deep within the rover – will analyze the Martian surface. But for now, it’s essentially a stand-in for a human astronaut, taking measurements of the space environment, according to NASA.

Don Hassler, RAD’s principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, said:

RAD is serving as a proxy for an astronaut inside a spacecraft on the way to Mars. 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.

Curiosity Mars rover successful so far

So far, Curiosity demonstrates exceptional success. NASA had planned six course adjustments for the craft. Due to the precision of the launch, NASA postponed the first adjustment, deeming it unnecessary. They will not adjust the course again until mid-January.

In a press release, Louis D’Amario of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, placed the Mars launch “among the most accurate interplanetary injections ever.”

Curiosity’s launch planned for the rover to miss Mars by 35,000 miles. The upper stage of its launch rocket, called Centaur, is not as clean as the rover itself. The planned trajectory ensures that Centaur will not touch Mars, protecting the planet from any Earth microbes so as not to interfere with tests.

Bottom line: NASA’s new Mars rover – Curiosity – launched 18 days ago and is now 31.9 million miles along on its 352-million-mile trip to Mars. It has traveled almost 1.8 million miles per day. After 18 days of traveling following its November 26 launch, Curiosity has begun analyzing radiation in space in order to assess how it would effect astronauts en route to the red planet.

After successful launch, new 8-month mission to Mars underway

December 14, 2011

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Laura Dattaro

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