The next big challenge for lunar astronauts? Moon dust

Like NASA and As private space companies prepare to send equipment – and possibly astronauts – to the moon, they face an almost invisible threat to any future lunar outpost: tiny particles of dust. Crushed moon rock, known as regolith, clogs drills and other delicate instruments, and it’s so sharp it scratches space suits. Because dust absorbs sunlight, it can also overheat sensitive electronic devices.

Dust particles also pose a health risk. Even though Apollo-era astronauts were only out for a few days on each mission, some have reported burning eyes and stuffy nasal passages when they returned from walks on the moon and took off their dust-covered spacesuits at inside the capsule. Images from the geology-focused Apollo 17 mission featuring seven-hour trips on the lunar rover show the astronaut The face of Gene Cernan covered in dust, like a coal miner from space. During a technical briefing Upon his return to Earth, Cernan told NASA officials that moon dust was not to be sneezed at. “I think dust is probably one of our biggest inhibitors at nominal moon operation,” Cernan said. “I think we can overcome other physiological or physical or mechanical problems, with the exception of dust.”

The grain clogged the radiators that removed heat and carbon dioxide from the spacesuits and wore a hole in the knee of Cernan’s space suit, according to Phil abel, who is researching moon dust as director of the Tribology and Mechanical Components division at NASA’s Glenn Research Center. (Tribology is the study of wear and friction.) Apollo 17 astronauts introduced dust into the capsule, where it smelled like gunpowder and caused hay fever symptoms to the pilot. of the Harrison Schmitt lunar module, according to a report by a NASA Lunar Dust Workshop in 2020.

Here’s how an Apollo 12 astronaut described what happened when he returned to the lunar module after a walk on the moon: [module] was dirty and so dusty that when I took off my helmet I was almost blinded. Junk immediately entered my eyes. (The quote appears in a 2009 NASA report titled “The risk of adverse health effects from exposure to moon dust. ”)

Researchers at Stony Brook University exposed human lung and brain cells to moon dust and found that it killed 90 percent of cells, according to a study published in the journal. GeoHealth in 2018. In fact, respiratory health is a major concern if and when humans return to the moon, according to Abel. “These particles lodge deep in your lungs, and that’s a long-term health risk,” says Abel. “At the time, it was feared that if we had needed to do more on the moon’s surface, some of the spacesuits would have started leaking at too high a rate. This is something that we are working on to improve ourselves.

The last Apollo spacecraft left the Moon on December 14, 1972, bringing Schmitt and Cernan home. Now NASA officials say they plan to land scientific equipment on the moon in 2022, with the option to put astronaut boots on the lunar surface as early as 2024 under the Artemis program. Scientists at NASA Glenn Research Center are sending an experiment in 2023 called the Characterization of the adhesion of regoliths mission, which will determine how dust adheres to materials during landing and undercarriage operations. The information they will receive will help them understand how to design gear that can repel dust and spacesuits that won’t shatter due to the wear and tear of the sandpaper-like grain that covers them.

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