The Next Big Challenge for Lunar Astronauts? Moon Dust

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As NASA and non-public area corporations put together to ship tools—and finally astronauts—again to the moon, they’re dealing with an almost invisible risk to any future lunar outpost: tiny particles of mud. Floor-up lunar rock, often known as regolith, clogs drills and different delicate devices, and it is so sharp that it scratches spacesuits. As a result of the mud absorbs daylight, it could actually additionally overheat delicate electronics.

Mud particles additionally pose a well being threat. Though Apollo-era astronauts solely went exterior throughout a number of days on every mission, some reported burning eyes and stuffy nasal passages once they returned from moon walks and took off their dust-covered spacesuits contained in the capsule. Photos from the Apollo 17 mission, which centered on geology and featured seven-hour journeys within the lunar rover, present astronaut Gene Cernan’s face lined in mud, like some outer area coal miner. Throughout a technical briefing when he returned to Earth, Cernan instructed NASA officers that lunar mud was nothing to sneeze at. “I feel mud might be considered one of our best inhibitors to a nominal operation on the moon,” Cernan mentioned. “I feel we will overcome different physiological or bodily or mechanical issues, besides mud.”

The grit clogged the radiators that eliminated warmth and carbon dioxide from spacesuits and wore a gap within the knee of Cernan’s outer spacesuit, based on Phil Abel, who researches moon mud as supervisor of the Tribology and Mechanical Parts Department at NASA’s Glenn Analysis Middle. (Tribology is the research of wear and tear and friction.) The Apollo 17 astronauts introduced mud into the capsule, the place it smelled like gunpowder and prompted lunar module pilot Harrison Schmitt to have hay fever signs, based on a report from a NASA workshop on lunar mud in 2020.

Right here’s how one Apollo 12 astronaut described what occurred when he returned to the lunar module after a stroll on the moon: “The [module] was filthy soiled and had a lot mud that once I took my helmet off, I used to be nearly blinded. Junk instantly received into my eyes.” (The quote seems in a 2009 NASA report entitled “The Threat of Antagonistic Well being Results From Lunar Mud Publicity.”)

Researchers at Stony Brook College uncovered human lung and mind cells to lunar mud and located that it killed 90 p.c of the cells, based on a research revealed within the journal GeoHealth in 2018. Actually, respiratory well being is a prime concern if and when people return to the moon, based on Abel. “These particles get lodged down deep in your lungs, and that’s a long-term well being threat,” Abel says. “There was some concern on the time that if we had wanted to do extra on the moon’s floor, among the spacesuits would have began to leak at too excessive a charge. It’s one thing we’ve been engaged on to enhance.”

The final Apollo spacecraft left the moon on December 14, 1972, bringing Schmitt and Cernan dwelling. Now, NASA officers say they plan to land scientific gear on the moon in 2022, with the potential for placing astronauts’ boots on the lunar floor as quickly as 2024 beneath the Artemis program. Scientists at NASA Glenn Analysis Middle are sending up an experiment in 2023 referred to as the Regolith Adherence Characterization mission, which can decide how mud sticks to supplies throughout touchdown and lander operations. The knowledge they get again will assist them work out design tools that may repel mud, and spacesuits that gained’t break down from the damage and tear of the sandpaper-like grit that covers them.

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