Jet Propulsion Lab and NASA successfully landed the Curiosity Mars Rover right on target tonight. They successfully used a new landing technique never tried before and dropped 5400 pound descent stage and scientific instruments and a vehicle like a new born baby being placed in her mothers arms albeit a little roughly at 2 mph. With a simple text message saying "I made it" everyone in mission control could finally breathe.
On its way to Mars Curiosity performed a really crucial scientific experiment necessary for any possible manned flight to Mars. Curiosity measured the radiation exposure any future astronauts would be exposed to on such a long duration flight. Curiosity will continue this experiment on Mars because Astronauts on the Mars Surface will be exposed to radiation with little protection working on the surface.
Curiosity has a special radiation shell or protective shielding which is I believe what is planned for the Orion deep space capsule if it ever comes to fruition. All Astronauts are limited in the amount of radiation they may receive during their flight careers and the Mars flight would "contribute significantly to an Astronauts career total of RADs allowed which is in the range of 1-4 sieverts depending on age and gender. It will be young flyboys on any Mars mission.
The reason Mars is dangerous is the simple fact it does not have a magnetic field which deflects radiation and protects us. The big culprit is always solar radiation which is upped dramatically with any major solar flares. Interestingly Apollo on the Apollo missions 7-17 there was only one minor solar flare and most of the radiation Apollo flyboys. Apollo was primarily pestered by Van Allen Belt radiation, cosmic rays, neutrons, and other subatomic particles created when the particles collided with the space craft. The business of flyboys in space is a tricky business.
None of the Apollo Astronauts suffered any adverse affects and several including Jim Lovell flew multiple missions. The Command Module was reasonably safe as it was quite well shielded and could be positioned while traveling to and from the moon to protect itself using the RCS system. The most dangerous radiation levels occurred on the Lunar Lander during descent, ascent and while on the surface of the moon because the basic shell for the Lander is paper thin. A major solar flare while on the Lunar surface would have required an emergency return to orbit and the protection of the Command Module.
My friends at CalTech and JPL are the remaining best of the best and the brightest but then they have been running successful missions for a while as the Mars Rovers Spirit and opportunity attest to. Curiosity is a beast and I mean she is as big at 1200 pounds with a planned mission time of undetermined length that will vary based on the craft itself.
Hopefully Curiosity finds some interesting items and peeks mankind's curiosity because we sure need it to get off our asses and explore because when we do not explore we will die out s a specie because it is in our nature to be curious. Of course that will also require some insight and courage politically and currently that is not found in Washington DC in either party.
Congrats to the Curiosity team and even NASA for a pretty cool mission that has a long way to go but is off to a terrific start. First thumbnail pictures are already in and after testing is completed on all mission systems Curiosity should be off to her mission and hopefully spark our curiosity.
***** Edited for correct weights of descent and rover. It was taxing watching and written in a hurry. ****