NASA News: NASA Mars-Bound Rover Begins Research in Space


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.

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:


You can follow the mission on Facebook and Twitter at:





NASA Astronaut Available Via Internet To Discuss Recruiting

HOUSTON -- As NASA looks to new, deep space destinations and an
ambitious commercial transportation system to the International Space
Station, the agency is recruiting the next generation of explorers to
make these momentous journeys.

To discuss this opportunity and application procedures, veteran
astronaut Rex Walheim will be available for interviews live via
internet teleconferencing from 8:30 to 10 a.m. CST on Friday, Dec. 16.

NASA is accepting applications for the agency's next class in the
Astronaut Candidate Program through Jan. 27, 2012. After applicant
interviews and evaluations, the agency expects to announce the final
selections in 2013. Those selected will go on to become an integral
part in the planning and execution of NASA's future missions.

Walheim has flown on three spaceflights, including the STS-135 mission
in July, the final flight of the Space Shuttle Program. That mission
delivered 9,400 pounds of spare parts, equipment and other supplies
to the station, which will help sustain operations on the orbiting
outpost during the next year.

A native of Redwood City, Calif., Walheim is a graduate of the
University of California, Berkeley and holds a master's degree from
the University of Houston. He is a retired U.S. Air Force colonel.

To arrange an interview, news media must contact the Johnson Space
Center newsroom at 281-483-5111 by 2 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 15.
Interviews will be conducted via internet teleconferencing.

For more information about the astronaut application and selection
process and to follow the latest news via NASA accounts on Twitter,
Facebook and YouTube, visit:


For Walheim's biography, visit:



Media Invited To Simulated Asteroid Campout In Houston

HOUSTON -- For three days this week, a small part of NASA's Johnson
Space Center in Houston will simulate a human mission to an asteroid.
Reporters are invited to observe what the mission might entail.

As NASA continues plans to send humans to explore asteroids and other
destinations beyond low-Earth orbit, a number of questions are being
asked about how astronauts could live and work in space. NASA
astronaut Mike Gernhardt and geologist Brent Garry of the Planetary
Science Institute in Tucson, Ariz., will spend three days and two
nights living inside the cabin of a prototype multi-mission Space
Exploration Vehicle (SEV) answering some of those questions.

Reporters may visit the test site at 10:30 a.m. CST on Thursday, Dec.
15, during a simulated spacewalk in which a crew member will use a
microgravity simulator. To attend contact Amiko Kauderer at
amiko.kauderer-1@nasa.gov by 5 p.m. on Wednesday.
The public is invited to ask the crew questions via twitter
@Desert_RATS; for a Twitterview the crew will participate in at 11
a.m. on Friday, Dec. 16. Questions should be marked #SEV.

Normally, the cabin of the SEV prototype is used atop a wheeled
chassis, but wheels are of no use in the microgravity environment of
an asteroid. Instead, the cabin would be used on a propelled sled
allowing crew members to maneuver around the asteroid.

To simulate such an environment, the SEV will be on an air-bearing
floor allowing it to virtually float, much like an air hockey puck.
The crew will see how the SEV handles in a simulated microgravity

The tests are part of NASA's Research and Technology Studies (RATS)
program that will evaluate and provide data for future generations of
SEV cabins. The test will be repeated in January with a different
crew. Both tests will be used to develop a fully integrated RATS test
at Johnson in August.

This series of tests and will be used to evaluate existing tools that
could be used to simulate spacewalks on an asteroid. The only time
the crew will leave the SEV during the tests will be to perform
simulated spacewalks. Test equipment and laboratories include:

-- Johnson's virtual reality laboratory, also used to train astronauts
for both space shuttle and International Space Station spacewalks
-- A chair with thrusters previously used for testing the Manned
Maneuvering Unit, a jet pack designed to allow astronauts to perform
untethered spacewalks
-- The Active Response Gravity Offload System, or ARGOS, a system that
suspends astronauts in spacesuits from a beam and simulated different
amounts of gravity. During the media event, a crew member will
conduct a simulated spacewalk using ARGOS

For information about the Desert RATS tests, visit:


For more information about the multi-mission Space Exploration
Vehicle, visit:


Follow Desert RATS via Twitter at:



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