As NASA's Curiosity rover explores Mars since landing in August, the big question remains: Could humans survive on Mars? Well, one factor seems to be favorable as radiation levels at the Martian surface seem to match those in the low-Earth orbit.
Initial radiation measurements taken by Curiosity appear to confirm that astronauts can indeed function on the Red Planet for limited stretches of time.
In a news conference last week, Don Hassler of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., said: "Absolutely, astronauts can live in this environment."
The Radiation Assessment Detector helps scientists assess the Red Planet's past and existing potential to host life and manned exploration, Space.com reports.
Martian radiation levels seem to be broadly comparable to those experienced by astronauts on the International Space Station and about half as high as the levels Curiosity experienced during its nine-month cruise through deep space.
The findings demonstrate that Mars' atmosphere, though just 1 percent as thick as that of Earth, does provide significant protection from dangerous, fast-moving cosmic particles. (Mars lacks a magnetic field, which gives our planet another layer of protection.)
The $2.5 billion Curiosity rover is studying the nature of this shielding. The RAD has found that radiation levels rise and fall by 3 to 5 percent over the course of each day, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Hassler said though RAD has yet to record a solar flare or storm — an occurrence that greatly increases radiation levels — it is feasible for astronauts to sustain radiation for a time mission on Mars.
Solar storms are of grave concern as exposure to radiation while walking on Mars' surface, or while walking in space, will result in immediate bodily harm.