Spacecraft on way to Mars begins work

Dec. 13, 2011 at 7:37 PM
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PASADENA, Calif., Dec. 13 (UPI) -- NASA says its Mars-bound Curiosity rover has already begun science experiments, monitoring space radiation during its eight-month trip to the Red Planet.

An instrument in the rover called the Radiation Assessment Detector, part of the Mars Science Laboratory, has begun monitoring the high-energy atomic and subatomic particles from the sun, distant supernovas and other sources, the space agency said in a release Tuesday.

"RAD is serving as a proxy for an astronaut inside a spacecraft on the way to Mars," said Don Hassler, RAD's principal investigator at 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."

Curiosity, launched Nov. 26 from Cape Canaveral, Fla., has covered about 32 million miles of its 354 million-mile journey to Mars, NASA said.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., is managing the mission and also designed, developed and assembled the rover Curiosity.

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