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Space Science

Lunar Dust: A Major Worry for Moon Visitors 464

smooth wombat writes "Wired has a story which talks about a danger to possible future inhabitants of the Moon that is rarely brought up: the highly abrasive lunar dust. Unlike Earth, the Moon has no erosive capabilities to smooth the edges of rocks or dust. As a result the lunar dust has arms that stick out, like Velcro, and sticks to everything. As the astronauts who walked on the moon found out, the dust scratched lenses and corroded seals within hours. Some of the particles are only microns across which means once they get into your lungs, they stay there. This could cause a lung disease similar to silicosis."
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Lunar Dust: A Major Worry for Moon Visitors

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  • by DarkHelmet ( 120004 ) * <mark.seventhcycle@net> on Tuesday April 05, 2005 @10:01PM (#12150166) Homepage
    I'm sure that people will solve this problem, so that we, as a race, can live on the moon just fine.

    Who do we have to thank about that? The smokers of the world!

    Just think. Iron lungs, operations, tracheotomies, breathing machines, voice boxes, all that. All that moon dust that's gonna end up in your lungs? Second hand dust, just like second hand smoke. Right? Right.

    All the technology to handle lung disease is already here. You should be thanking the tobacco companies right now. Or... you should be lighting up... to umm, help your lungs adjust to the moon dust... Yeah!

    I for one salute the smokers of this world, for giving us the technology to explore and survive on the moon and in outer space.


    This joke was brought to you by camel cigarettes. Now light up, maggots!

  • lawsuits (Score:2, Insightful)

    by timmarhy ( 659436 )
    look out here we go...
  • No one seems to have publically noticed this effect until now.. funny. Say, I heard Christopher Columbus met this crazy bunch of people called the Caribs!
  • by krisp ( 59093 ) * on Tuesday April 05, 2005 @10:03PM (#12150180) Homepage
    that biodomes will be clean. All the sci-fi movies had moon cities in a giant biodome! Anyone who goes outside and interacts with the dust gets cleaned on the way back in
    • How?

      I actually thought the same thing too, but how. Can't blow the dust off, that' would be like sandblasting the suit. You can't wash it off, then instead of a floating dust problem you've got a bouncing mud problem. Some kind of human safe Sonicator could be ivented I suppose.

      • by jd ( 1658 ) <{moc.oohay} {ta} {kapimi}> on Tuesday April 05, 2005 @10:49PM (#12150527) Homepage Journal
        Chemical wash, probably. The moon is mostly silicates, using something that reacts readily with silicon would seem to be a likely candidate. It also has to be something that doesn't react with space suits, which might pose a problem.
        • by Anonymous Coward
          Chemical wash, probably. The moon is mostly silicates, using something that reacts readily with silicon would seem to be a likely candidate.

          Hydrofluoric acid, what won't you do?

          It also has to be something that doesn't react with space suits, which might pose a problem.

  • asbestos (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Internet_Communist ( 592634 ) on Tuesday April 05, 2005 @10:03PM (#12150181) Homepage
    sounds like moon dust has similar properties to asbestos. So small that it gets stuck in lungs and such...I have no idea if it's as resilient as asbestos is though...any clues?
  • by Staplerh ( 806722 ) on Tuesday April 05, 2005 @10:03PM (#12150183) Homepage
    As the astronauts who walked on the moon found out, the dust scratched lenses and corroded seals within hours. Some of the particles are only microns across which means once they get into your lungs, they stay there. This could cause a lung disease similar to silicosis.

    I wonder if breathing a vaccum without 'dust' in the air would cause a lung disease too?
  • Lung Disease (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 05, 2005 @10:04PM (#12150186)
    Some of the particles are only microns across which means once they get into your lungs, they stay there. This could cause a lung disease similar to silicosis.

    I think that if you're freely breathing in dust with no protection between you and the lunar surface, you've got bigger issues to worry about than silicosis.
    • Re:Lung Disease (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Skapare ( 16644 )

      The dust gets on your space suit. You go back inside. Some of the dust falls off and floats in the air inside. Later you breath it in.

      Sounds to me like they are going to need some really good washdown. And a vacuum cleaner can actually work with air being sucked in to pull some particles along with it. The big question is just how much of an effort is needed.

    • Re:Lung Disease (Score:5, Informative)

      by MillionthMonkey ( 240664 ) on Tuesday April 05, 2005 @10:29PM (#12150384)
      I think that if you're freely breathing in dust with no protection between you and the lunar surface, you've got bigger issues to worry about than silicosis.

      Lunar dust is reported to smell like exploded firecrackers [], according to a 2002 interview with John Hirasaki, an Apollo recovery technician:
      JIM [interviewer]: Did you have to go into isolation prior to the splashdown? If so how long beforehand? Was this done to minimize your exposure to viruses and germs that might have caused alarm if you and/or others in isolation became ill?

      JOHN: Dr. Bill Carpentier and I were placed into isolation within the MQF about the same time as the launch of Apollo 11. The reason for our biological isolation was for the reason that you indicated... At the LRL, on our side of the biological barrier, I recall that the Public Affairs Officer joined the five of us to assist in post-flight debriefings and interviews with the news media. Also during our stay in the LRL, we had two laboratory technicians join us at different intervals because of accidental breeches of biological isolation while they were handling lunar samples on their side of the LRL. The LRL itself is a fascinating story that deserves to be told.

      JIM: You personally retrieved the Apollo 11 lunar sample containers from Columbia shortly after the Command Module was brought on board the Hornet. Do you have specific memories of entering the spacecraft? Did the boxes look "dusty" or smudged?

      JOHN: The first unusual item that I noticed upon entering the Apollo 11 Command Module was a unique scent that reminded me of smell of exploded firecrackers or the scent that you notice when you strike flint together. I had not noticed this scent when I opened other Command Modules following their flights.

      The lunar sample return containers were slightly smudged with dust from the surface of the moon but this dust was especially prevalent on the surface of the suits worn by Armstrong and Aldrin. These suits were stored in the Command Module below the crew couches. Traces of the dust appeared on many surfaces since the fine powder like nature of the moon dust inadvertently allowed it to be transferred to other surfaces.

      I cannot say that the aroma was a direct result of the "moon dust" being present in the cabin even though that was what I surmised. There could be other explanations for the aroma that are not related to the presence of the dust. After reviewing the post-flight notes from the Apollo 11 mission, there was a comment made during crew debriefing that a "strong odor of burnt material" was noticed following the S-IVB stage separation when the crew opened the CSM tunnel.

      Google cache here. []
    • Re:Lung Disease (Score:5, Interesting)

      by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <> on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @01:07AM (#12151276) Homepage
      Some of the particles are only microns across which means once they get into your lungs, they stay there. This could cause a lung disease similar to silicosis.

      I think that if you're freely breathing in dust with no protection between you and the lunar surface, you've got bigger issues to worry about than silicosis.

      Every one of the Apollo lunar mission crewman have been exposed to this dust, without having unprotected acess to the lunar surface - the dust was carried into the cabin with them on the surface of their suits.

      For example see this picture [] of Gene Cernan after a lunar EVA.

  • by FIT_Entry1 ( 468985 ) on Tuesday April 05, 2005 @10:04PM (#12150190)

    Lunar dust (loo-near duhst)n.
    Highly abrasive and difficult to remove.
    see Republicans
  • by Skapare ( 16644 ) on Tuesday April 05, 2005 @10:04PM (#12150193) Homepage
    Also, the dust is littered with bonded shards of glass and minerals known as agglutinates, which were formed in the heat of meteorite impacts. Agglutinates have not been found on Earth, and scientists worry that the human body may not be able to expel them efficiently if inhaled.

    Sounds like the makings of a "dirty bomb".

  • by infonography ( 566403 ) on Tuesday April 05, 2005 @10:06PM (#12150202) Homepage
    We can help. If you have been injured by dust not of this earth we can help. Call Dewey, Keetum and Howe 999.000.04~4 Now, time is slipping away you could lose your chance to get money for your injuries.
  • oh no... (Score:2, Funny)

    by erroneus ( 253617 )
    ...that poor cow. Do you think it suffered?
  • Get in line (Score:5, Funny)

    by Aggrav8d ( 683620 ) on Tuesday April 05, 2005 @10:07PM (#12150216) Homepage
    So if the radiation, metorites, temperature, subversive crewmembers, psychotic computers, lack of air, fuel, or water doesn't get you... the dirt will.

    ...I'd still go. (strip soft/first post?)
  • Fark (Score:4, Funny)

    by kgayer ( 647331 ) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (drolgnob)> on Tuesday April 05, 2005 @10:08PM (#12150220) Homepage
    Slashdot beaten by Fark (this was posted days ago).. A sad sad day for /.
  • If there is no wind on the moon, and people are living indoors, this dust does not seem like a huge deal.

    The only potential problem would be during outdoor activities and construction, but I am sure simple solutions can be found.
  • Okay (Score:2, Interesting)

    If the turnover rate of information is 40+ years (From the moon landing till now) I think we might have a slight latency gap of informaiton flow.

    Also, with these particles getting caught in the lungs, isnt the whole "lack of oxygen on the moon" probably, a bigger breathing threat?
    • Re:Okay (Score:3, Informative)

      Also, with these particles getting caught in the lungs, isnt the whole "lack of oxygen on the moon" probably, a bigger breathing threat?

      Walking on the lunar surface with protective gear prevents this problem until you go inside, and remove the said gear. While you are removing the gear, you are currently breathing in the particles. Think of it like wearing a dry suit while scuba diving ... you are fine in the water, but you are still going to get wet when you get out of your gear.
  • by Kelerain ( 577551 ) <avc_mapmaster@ho ... minus physicist> on Tuesday April 05, 2005 @10:23PM (#12150337)
    "Dust is the No. 1 environmental problem on the moon,"

    And here I thought it was the lack of segnificant atmosphere. Silly me.

    Although I do think it is great that we are considering other major problems.
  • Unlike Earth ,the Moon has no erosive capabilities to smooth the edges of rocks or dust. As a result the lunar dust has arms that stick out, like Velcro, and sticks to everything.

    So we start eroding the moon. How hard can that be?!? Create an atmosphere, bring some water, don't plant anything*. In a few years you have perfectly safe eroded dust.

    *Note that not planting anything is not an actual step, but listed for cautionary purposes.
    • you can't create an atmosphere on the moon; at least not one like ours on Earth. The primary gasses we have on the Earth's atmosphere would, over time, all achieve escape velocity and fly away. maybe in theory if you used heavy enough fluids...
  • by SuperSanta ( 843034 ) on Tuesday April 05, 2005 @10:24PM (#12150348) Journal
    Finally an environment I was BUILT to survive in. Having gone to the desert at the end of August for the last 4 years, I know DUST. I know the feeling of contact lenses gritty with it, zippers of tents being destroyed after only one week exposure to it, taking a shower feeling dry and fresh for all of maybe 5 seconds before your skin has that fine gritty coating on it again. Bring on the moon!
  • Missing the Point (Score:5, Insightful)

    by HadesInjustice ( 872477 ) on Tuesday April 05, 2005 @10:28PM (#12150373)
    "As the astronauts who walked on the moon found out, the dust scratched lenses and corroded seals within hours." I don't think the problem is with the dust getting into your lung, even thought that could be a serious one; however, I doubt ppl actually take deep breathe out in the open, and the air lock should be able to remove the dust with a strong air filter. I believe the real problem is with the structure of the house ON the moon surface. It said that it scratched lenses and corroded seals within hours which mean that any windows and air lock seals will be damage. The cost of the constant repair for the damage might be the cost issue here. I am not sure if I am getting it all right, but that is the problem as I see. What do you ppl think?
  • Simple.

    Just equip every airlock with that marvel of 1980s technology... []
  • by Jah-Wren Ryel ( 80510 ) on Tuesday April 05, 2005 @10:39PM (#12150446)
    This could cause a lung disease similar to silicosis.

  • Oh, okay.. (Score:3, Funny)

    by Lord Bitman ( 95493 ) on Tuesday April 05, 2005 @10:41PM (#12150464) Homepage
    I wont take any deep breaths while I'm on the moon. Thanks for the heads up!
  • by nmb3000 ( 741169 ) <> on Tuesday April 05, 2005 @10:42PM (#12150468) Journal
    Just take some dust-slaying Nano-shurikens of Doom [] with you (TG is owned by OSTG, the parent company of Slashdot, so activate all conspiracy theories now). They'll take care of it, whoop-ass style.

    While you're there, you can also look into the new iPod accessory iCopulate [] which allows intimacy between mp3 players never before fantasized. And for the suit that has everything, Executve Pong []. There's also Alarm Pills [] that help you wake up and fall asleep and a new USB-powered Fundue set [] available.
  • playa dust (Score:3, Informative)

    by capilot ( 809596 ) on Tuesday April 05, 2005 @10:53PM (#12150554)
    We should have a betting pool on how many people point out that you're not supposed to breathe outside on the moon. Thanks folks, I never knew that. Seriously, the stuff sounds like playa dust to me, and anybody who's ever been out on the playa knows that you track that stuff in with you all the time. If lunar dust is half as pervasive as playa dust, it's going to take serious decontamination to keep it outside.
  • by deft ( 253558 ) on Tuesday April 05, 2005 @11:05PM (#12150622) Homepage
    If you are returning to a space port in the US, we noe require a passport. If not, you may be required to stay on the moon and die, or even worse, go to Canada.
  • Trivial (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ltbarcly ( 398259 ) on Tuesday April 05, 2005 @11:22PM (#12150773)
    This is such a stupid concern. As for breathing it, do the same thing moms have done for 2000 years, don't let people wear dirty stuff inside.

    There is no reason you would need to expose the INSIDE of the structure you live in to the OUTSIDE of the suit. Design the suit so that getting into the suit is the same as leaving the dust-free area. That means sort of 'docking' it. That way you are only exposed to the inside of the suit, never the outside.

    Obviously you will have to repair and maintain the suit. When this comes up you'll have to clean it before bringing it in. At least you won't have to clean it after every use, and you won't need complicated (heavy, thus expensive) equipment to dedust people who go outside for 10 minutes to check something. Plus, no deduster means no failing deduster, which means you won't have to let dusty ass people inside because the vaccum broke.

    The real question is why do you have a suit. It will only be necessary to go outside very rarely I would imagine, so the dust becomes less of an issue. Just suck it off anybody coming in and forget about it. You will have to be running some serious hepa/ultraviolet air cleaners anyway, because dust from human skin and abrasion between objects will just build up without limit otherwise. You'll have to ultraviolet the air somehow, or you risk things like legionairs disease, and nitrous oxide buildup.

    I would be more worried about wear due to abrasion. Unless parts can be fashioned easily on the moon this could be a serious problem. Perhaps parts exposed to dust could be made out of a polymer that can be melted and remolded, so that the only loss is the small amount of plastic that is actually abraded off, instead of the entire part being ruined.
  • by Baldrson ( 78598 ) * on Tuesday April 05, 2005 @11:44PM (#12150900) Homepage Journal
    Why put people on the lunar or any planetary surface?

    See Mike Combs' space settlement FAQ [] which says:

    What advantages would orbital settlements have over a colony built on another planet?
    1. Access to 24-hour-a-day sunlight. This makes solar power a consistent, economical energy source. Photovoltaic panels can convert sunlight into electrical current, and solar mirrors can concentrate it for process heat in industrial operations (such as the smelting of ore). A space-based solar concentrator the size of a football field (which could still weigh less than a car) could provide process heat equivalent to the burning of 1 million barrels of oil over 30 years.

      Sunlight also drives the life-support system of the habitat, so the day/night cycle can be set to whatever is convenient. Compare this to the moon, where there is 14 days of continuous daylight, and then a 14-day-long night. Here, some alternate energy source would probably have to be used half the time.

    2. Access to zero gravity. This may have a number of industrial and entertainment possibilities. Structures (such as the above-mentioned solar mirrors) could be built many times larger and flimsier in space than on a planet.

      Zero G would be a liability if there were no alternative to it. Astronauts experience loss of bone mass and muscle tone after prolonged exposure to weightlessness. But most of a space habitat would be under Earth-normal gravity, although there would be easy access to regions of reduced gravity and zero G (perhaps for personal flight). With planets, on the other hand, you have to take the gravity that's there, and it's often the wrong kind of gravity to keep us healthy. Lunarians or Martians would probably not be able to visit the Earth (nor accelerate at 1 G).

    3. Location near the top of Earth's gravity well. We here on Earth are the "gravitationally disadvantaged". We are at the bottom of a pit 6,400 km (4,000 miles) deep. This is what makes space launches from the surface so difficult and expensive. Settlers near the top of the gravity well would be ideally situated for departures to points beyond.

    4. Control of the environment. The weather and other aspects of the surroundings would be those of the inhabitants' choosing. Agriculture in space will benefit from weather control (fresh fruits and vegetables year-round!) and the absence of pests.

    5. Mobile territories. Although the first generation of space habitats will doubtless reside in High Earth Orbit, there's no reason why space settlers couldn't attach engines to their habitats, and over the course of months or years gradually change their orbit to whatever solar system location they found preferable.

    6. Long-term expansion of the land area available to the human race. Let's be optimistic and assume that Mars could be made totally Earth-like in the near-term. This would basically double the land area available to humanity, meaning problem solved...until the population doubles again. Right now, that is happening roughly every 40 years. By contrast, if we were to conservatively limit ourselves to using only the resources of the asteroid belt, we could build, in the form of space habitats, 3,000 times the livable surface area of the Earth. This makes space settlement a long-term solution.
    • While all of these are good reasons to establish independent space colonies, here is the #1 reason for landing on a planetary body:

      Natural Resources!

      Simply put, you need to have "stuff" in order to build anything, and planets like Mars and the Moon have lots of that stuff.

      A neat advantage that Mars also offers is that you can start a human civilazation with comparatively fewer resources to start with, as they can draw from the local environment in a much easier fashion than you can by simply sitting in "empty" space, such as LEO. The ISS is a prime example of this, where all of the resources have to be brought up from the Earth in order to sustain human life up there... subject to budget cuts, mismanagement at HQ, and changes of priorities.

      That said, you can still obtain some resource from asteroids, but that means you have to run out to them and set up camps on those asteroids to carve up the resources for the space stations you are talking about, or simply start building the settlements themselves right there. You still got planetary settlement then, regardless of where you ship the metal & minerals afterward.

      In short, I don't see a way that you can avoid settlements on the Moon or Mars in the next 500-1000 years, and any manufactured worlds (like an O'Neil colony) would have to at least have a symbiotic relationship with miners living on dirt with gravity.

      BTW, when you are dealing with agriculture in space, there are a lot of unknowns that will go into the picture. To suggest that there will be no pests or weeds is showing signs of ignorance as to how food is actually grown, as you need a very complex relationship between microorganisms, insects, and multiple species of plants in order to grow healthy crops. Even most farmers take this for granted as they push dirt around, but it is still something that they use to their advantage even here on the Earth. I've had to pull too much sweet corn out of soybean fields to think that weeds are merely noxious plants that God somehow put in there to "torment mankind". This is going to be an issue, however, for any agriculture that takes place off of the Earth.

      Also RE: mobile territories--- This is going to be much harder than you think. If you want to have a space colony that can be moved around, it has to be built substantially different from something that is simply built in place to stay there. For a practical current application to compare against, look up or examine the building practices for mobile homes ("manufactured homes" in the current lexicon) vs. on-site constructed homes. Mobile homes have to have steel beams in certain places in order to keep the thing together as it travels down a freeway at 70 mph, and other construction considerations that must be done that keep certain floorplans from being done. Yes, there are some very creative architects that do seeming wonders with manufactured homes, but you can still look at the outside of a house and tell the difference. What make a manufactured home cheap is the economies of scale when they are mass-produced, and not having to haul as much labor on-site. This will not be an option in space for centuries if not for over 1000 years.

      If you already have a solid and well established colony on bodies like Mars or the Moon (self-sustaining even), then you will be able to talk about manufactured worlds. Until then, you will have to lift everything from the Earth, which is prohibitively expensive for any very large project, or something that has not risen to the level of being of national importance, Robert Bigelow not withstanding.
  • by ankhank ( 756164 ) * on Tuesday April 05, 2005 @11:57PM (#12150957) Journal

    Where the backpack mounts, underneath it on the back of the suit, there's a hatch.

    Astronaut backs up to the side of the habitat,
    removes the backpack or hinges it to one side.

    There's a flat oval surface big enough to exit from.

    A matching surface on the habitat also opens up.

    On it there's a sticky surface like a Post-It note.

    Astronaut presses the suit up against that surface, and it seals around the edge.

    The sticky surface traps all the dust on the outside of the suit hatch and anything that stuck to the surface gets peeled away along with the sticky layer, out from between the EVA suit and the actual habitat surface.

    Think of the old magic trick of slipping a tablecloth out from under the table setting, or of putting down one side of double-sticky tape and then pulling the covering paper out from in between the parts you want to stay in contact.

    Then you have a pair of freshly cleaned surfaces stuck together -- astronaut on one side in the EVA suit, and true airlock on the other side in the habitat (yes, you do want a backup door.

    Pull the little zip strip all the way around, roll up the membrane with any remaining dust stuck in between two thin layers of clean material.

    Astronaut backs into the airlock.

    Pull down another clean sheet of sealing material over the opening, with whatever connectors are required for flushing out and cleaning the EVA suit.

    Close the portal, leaving the cleaned suit hanging there on the outside of the habitat waiting to be entered next time.

    Step through the real airlock door, seal it, wash up, lather-rinse-repeat.

    Go into the habitat.

    Yes, I take this stuff seriously.

    Short of setting up a nice big sprinkler system and freezing the whole area to control the dust, it's going to be a constant issue.

    Mars is looking friendlier all the time, as are the Lagrange points.

    Maybe the Moon really is for the machines.
  • Mars? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @12:20AM (#12151065) Journal
    I wonder how this compares to Mars dust. Does the wind there grind off the micro-spikes?
    • Re:Mars? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Eminence ( 225397 ) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {tdnarbka}> on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @07:03AM (#12152423) Homepage
      • I wonder how this compares to Mars dust.

      Logically it shouldn't be like on the Moon since Mars has an atmosphere - it even has dust storms.

      But this is one more remainder that decision taken some time ago by NASA to go first to the Moon and then to Mars makes no real sense. This was discussed widely, also on /. but one of the reasons was that Moon would serve as a testing ground for solutions to be used on Mars. As this example shows Moon may require totally different habitats, suits and equipment - in some aspects even up to much higher standards than for Mars.

  • by Bongo Bill ( 853669 ) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @12:34AM (#12151130) Homepage
    Thanks! I'll remember that next time I'm on the moon.

Karl's version of Parkinson's Law: Work expands to exceed the time alloted it.