If NASA's Mars Curiosity rover lands successfully, it will look for signs of habitability. The rover will also keep an eye on the weather.
In addition to looking for signs of current and past habitability to extraterrestrial life, the rover, due to land Aug. 6, will learn more about whether Mars could be habitable for humans — particularly in terms of its weather. The continuous record of Martian weather and radiation Curiosity plans to collect will help future forecasters tell humans — should we choose to go — how best to protect themselves in the harsh environment, experts say.
That's why NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate paid to include a radiation detector onboard the car-size Curiosity, the centerpiece of the Mars Science Laboratory mission, which is run by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
“When we were designing Curiosity, we were going to use it for our habitability investigations as well,” said Ashwin Vasavada, MSL's deputy project scientist. “But it really is paid for and intended to understand the environment humans will experience on Mars.”
The $2.5 billion rover launched Nov. 26, 2011. It is designed to work for at least two years on Mars.
Curiosity will sample the Martian environment every hour through two main instruments: a meteorology station and a radiation detector. The instruments will run even when the rover is sleeping, during the Martian night, to provide a continual stream of data. [Mars Rover Curiosity's Landing Site: Gale Crater (Infographic)]