PHOTO courtesy NASA TV via REUTERS
The landing of the unmanned Mars explorer Curiosity on the surface of Mars this morning brings a piece of San Antonio to the Red Planet, 1200 WOAI news reports.
Curiosity, which is the largest and most complicated spacecraft to ever land on another planet, landed right on time and at the exact place it was supposed to land, and immediately began sending back images of Mars. Curiosity will spend two years roving the surface of Mars, and looking for signs that the planet has life, or may have had life at some point in the past.
Part of the Curiosity lander was built at San Antonio’s Southwest Research Institute. Program Director Don Hassler, who was at his post early today watching the landing, says it is a radiation detector.
"Understanding the radiation environment is one of the five top things that we need to fully understand before we will be able to send people to Mars," Hassler told 1200 WOAI's Michael Board.
He says the radiation detector has been working since the craft lifted off last year, sending back data on the radiation levels in space between the Earth and Mars.
"We're making fundamentally new measurements that have never been made before," he said. "All the measurements we make are new and exciting."
Data from the Martian surface will begin coming in later this week, Hassler said.
"We will measure the radiation environment on the surface of Mars, preparing for future human exploration," he said.
The radiation levels on Mars and on the way to Mars are critical, because any human explorers have to be equipped with space suits and the capsule carrying them have to be properly shielded against radiation.