NASA 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 November 26 from Cape Canaveral, Fla., aboard the Mars Science Laboratory. 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.
As of 9 a.m. PST (noon EST) on December 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.