The Next Big Challenge for Lunar Astronauts? Moon Dust

As NASA and Private space companies are preparing to send equipment-and eventually astronauts-back to the moon, they face an almost invisible threat to any future lunar outpost: tiny particles of dust. Ground-up lunar rock, known as regolith, obstructs drills and other dangerous instruments, and spacesuits crack very sharply. Because dust absorbs sunlight, it can also overheat sensitive electronics.

Dust particles also pose a health risk. Even if the astronauts during the Apollo only go out a few days on each mission, some report burning eyes and empty nasal passages on their return from lunar walk and stripping their spacesuits covered with dust inside the capsule. Images from the Apollo 17 mission, which focuses on geology and has seven hours of lunar rover travel, show the astronaut The face of Gene Cernan covered in dust, like some outdoor coal mine space. During the a technical instruction on his return to Earth, Cernan told NASA officials that the lunar dust had nothing to breathe. “I think dust could be one of our best deterrents in nominal lunar operations,” Cernan said. “I think we can overcome other physiological or physical or mechanical problems, other than dust.”

The grit clogged radiators that took heat and carbon dioxide from the spacesuits and clogged a knee hole in Cernan’s outer spacesuit, according to Phil Abel, who researches lunar dust as director of the Tribology and Mechanical Components Branch at NASA’s Glenn Research Center. (Tribology is the study of wear and tear.) Apollo 17 astronauts carry dust in the capsule, which smells like gunpowder and causes lunar module pilot Harrison Schmitt to have symptoms of fever in hay, according to a report from NASA workshop on lunar dust in 2020.

Here’s how an Apollo 12 astronaut described what happened on his return to the lunar module after the lunar eclipse: “The [module] dirty dirt and so much dust that when I took off my helmet, I was almost blind. Junk immediately caught my eye. ”(The quote shows a 2009 NASA report titled“The Risk of Adverse Health Effects From Lunar Dust Exposure. ”)

Researchers at Stony Brook University exposed human lung and brain cells to lunar dust and found that it killed 90 percent of the cells, according to a study published in the journal GeoHealth in 2018. In fact, respiratory health is a particular concern when and when people return to the moon, according to Abel. “These particles get stuck in your lungs, and that’s a high health risk,” Abel said. “There was some concern at the time that if we had to do more on the moon, some of the spacesuits might start releasing exorbitant amounts. This is something we are doing to improve. ”

The last Apollo spacecraft left the moon on December 14, 1972, bringing Schmitt and Cernan home. Now, NASA officials say they plan to land the science equipment on the moon by 2022, with the possibility of putting astronauts ’boots on the moon by the time 2024 under Artemis program. Scientists at NASA Glenn Research Center sent out an experiment in 2023 called Description of Regolith Adherence mission, where to learn how to stick dust to materials during landing and lander operations. The information they get will help them figure out how to design equipment that will remove dust, and spacesuits that won’t break from wearing the torn sandpaper that covers them.

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