The Radiation Assessment Detector, the first instrument on NASA's next rover mission to Mars to begin science operations, was powered up and began collecting data December 6, almost two weeks ahead of schedule. RAD is the only instrument scheduled to collect science data on the journey to Mars.
The instrument is measuring the energetic particles inside the spacecraft to characterize the radiation environment anastronaut would experience on a future human mission to the Red Planet.
“The first data packets from RAD look great,” said RAD principal investigator Don Hassler, science program director in the Space
Studies Department at Southwest Research Institute. “We are seeing a strong flux in space, even inside the spacecraft, about four times
higher doses of radiation than the baseline we measured on the launch pad from the RTG, or radioisotope thermoelectric generator, used to power the rover. It's very exciting to begin the science mission.”
RAD will measure the relevant energetic particle species originating from galactic cosmic rays, the Sun and other sources. Of particular interest are the particles accelerated by coronal mass ejections on the surface of the Sun, which spew fast-moving clouds of radiation across the solar system.
RAD was designed to characterize radiation levels on the surface of Mars, but an important secondary objective is measuring the radiation on the almost nine-month journey through interplanetary space, to prepare for future human exploration.