Astronauts could endure a long-term, roundtrip Mars mission without receiving a worryingly high radiation dose, new results from NASA's Mars rover Curiosity suggest.
A mission consisting of a 180-day outbound cruise, a 600-day stay on Mars and another 180-day flight back to Earth would expose an astronaut to a total radiation dose of about 1.1 sieverts (units of radiation) if it launched now, according to measurements by Curiosity's Radiation Assessment Detector instrument, or RAD.
That's a pretty manageable number, researchers said.
"The rough ballpark average for an astronaut career limit is on the order of a sievert," RAD principal investigator Don Hassler, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., said in a presentation here Monday at the annual fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union.
Although NASA's Curiosity rover hasn't yet confirmed the detection of organic compounds on Mars, it's already seeing that the Red Planet's soil contains complex chemicals, including perchlorate.
"NASA has a much more complicated determination for that, but ESA (the European Space Agency), for example, generally uses 1 sievert for that number," he added.
RAD has found radiation levels on the Martian surface to be comparable to those experienced by astronauts in low-Earth orbit. A person ambling around the Red Planet would receive an average dose of about 0.7 millisieverts per day, while astronauts aboard the International Space Station experience an average daily dose between 0.4 and 1.0 millisieverts, Hassler said.
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