The next big challenge for lunar astronauts? moon dust
NASA and As private space companies prepare to send equipment – and eventually astronauts – to the moon, they face an almost invisible threat to any future lunar outpost: tiny particles of dust. Earth’s lunar rocks, known as regolith, drill tampons and other precision instruments, are so sharp that they scratch spacesuits. Since dust absorbs sunlight, it can also heat sensitive electronics.
Dust particles also pose a health hazard. Although Apollo-era astronauts only emerged within a few days on each mission, some reported burning eyes and blocked nasal passages upon returning from walking on the moon and taking off their dust-covered space clothes inside the capsule. Images from the Apollo 17 mission, which focused on geology and included seven-hour flights in the lunar module, show astronaut Gene Cernan’s face covered in dust, like some coal miners in outer space. During a technical briefing when he returned to Earth, Cernan told NASA officials that lunar dust isn’t something to sneeze at. “I think dust is probably one of our biggest inhibitors of a nominal process on the Moon,” Cernan said. “I think we can overcome other physiological, physical or mechanical problems, except for dust.”
The granules clog the radiators that removed heat and carbon dioxide from the spacesuits and wear a hole in the knee of Cernan’s outer spacesuit, according to Phil Appel, who researches moon dust as director of the Tribology and Mechanical Components Branch at NASA’s Glenn Research Center. (Tribology is the study of wear and friction.) Apollo 17 astronauts brought dust into the capsule, where it smelled like gunpowder and caused lunar rover commander Harrison Schmidt to develop symptoms of hay fever, according to a report from a NASA workshop on lunar dust. in the year 2020.
Here is how an Apollo 12 astronaut described what happened when he returned to the lunar module after walking on the moon: [module] It was dirty and had so much dust in it that when I took off my helmet, I was almost blind. Scrap got into my eyes right away.” (The quote appears in a 2009 NASA report titled “Risks of Adverse Health Effects from Exposure to Lunar Dust.”)
Researchers at Stony Brook University exposed human brain and lung 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 major concern if and when humans return to the Moon, according to Abel. “These particles settle deep in your lungs, and that presents a long-term health risk,” Abel says. “There was some concern at the time that if we needed to do more on the lunar surface, some spacesuits would start leaking out at a very high rate. It’s something we are working on improving.”
The last Apollo spacecraft left the moon on December 14, 1972, and Schmidt and Cernan returned home. Now, NASA officials say they plan to land science equipment on the moon in 2022, with astronauts’ boots potentially on the lunar surface as early as 2024 under the Artemis program. Scientists at NASA’s Glenn Research Center are sending an experiment in 2023 called the Regolith Observation Characterization mission, which will determine how dust adheres to material during landings and landings. The information they will get will help them figure out how to design equipment that can repel dust, and spacesuits that won’t break due to the abrasion of the sandpaper-like grit covering them.