Washington: NASA's car-sized Curiosity rover has begun monitoring space radiation during its eight-month trip from Earth to Mars, the US space agency said on Tuesday. Curiosity was launched on November 26. The research will aid in planning for future human missions to the Red Planet.

It carries an instrument called the Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) that monitors high-energy atomic and subatomic particles from the sun, distant supernovas and other sources.

These particles constitute radiation that could be harmful to any microbes or astronauts in space or on Mars. The rover will monitor radiation on the surface of Mars after its August 2012 landing.

“RAD is serving as a proxy for an astronaut inside a spacecraft on the way to Mars,” Xinhua quoted Don Hassler, RAD's principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, as saying.

“The instrument is deep inside the spacecraft, the way an astronaut would be. Understanding the effects of the spacecraft on the radiation field will be valuable in designing craft for astronauts to travel to Mars,” he said.

By noon Dec 14, the spacecraft will have travelled 51.3 million kilometers of its 567-million-kilometer flight to Mars. The first trajectory correction maneuver during the trip is being planned for mid-January.