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Moon Space Science

Lunar Dustbusters 129

Maggie McKee writes "Moon dust could be a source of oxygen and metals. But moon dust could also lodge in astronauts' lungs, possibly triggering long-term health effects. During the relatively short Apollo Moon landing missions nearly 40 years ago, astronauts reported difficulty breathing. So now, before astronauts return to the moon in 2020, NASA is working on a number of ways to reduce the amount of lunar dust astronauts are exposed to — from simple grates on the floor to magnetic wands and giant lint rollers."
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Lunar Dustbusters

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  • Lunar Dust (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Pyrroc ( 1064152 )
    Why is Lunar dust so different than "normal" dust and/or sand that we breathe and/or eat every day?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      RTFA - it's often smaller particles, and there is a lot more of it.
    • Re:Lunar Dust (Score:4, Informative)

      by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @01:21AM (#18258986) Journal
      Why is Lunar dust so different than "normal" dust and/or sand that we breathe and/or eat every day?

      Because it has not been smoothed down by water and wind. Only hits of meteorites scatter stuff there, and that is not enough to smooth away edges on grains of silica and other rough rocks.

      Anyhow, the solution is simple: Have the astronauts take up smoking so that they have practice :-)
      • Re:Lunar Dust (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Jonny do good ( 1002498 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @01:34AM (#18259040) Journal
        Actually smoking may be benificial here. The dust would tend to stick to the tar rather than scatter freely. Just look at the inside of a computer from a smokers house... the fans a gummed up, sticky dust covers everything and canned air does nothing on the tar laced dust. Mabe the tar can be used to help clean the dust from the air? NASA should give me funding to test this theory :-) Maybe the astronauts shouldn't smoke themselves but a tar derived from smokers homes could be used in air filters or something.
        • by skoaldipper ( 752281 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @03:05AM (#18259448)

          Actually smoking may be benificial here.
          [The air tight vacuum seal squeeks as the airlock pressure normalizes. Two astrominers take off their helmets.]
          Zapp: Just let me catch my breath. Perhaps these will clear my lungs ...
          [Zapp unravels a square pack from his t-shirt sleeve]
          Zapp: Out-staaanding. Laramie Extra-tar now comes with cesnium-methyl-butate.
          [Zapp's eyes roll back as he takes a long drag]
          Zapp: Ahhh. Damn, that's smooooooth. [cough cough] Easy money baby. Another day, another euro.
          Troy: Don't kid yourself, Branny. My good looks paid for that moon buggy, and my talent filled it with gold nuggets.
          [Zapp laughs as a tar stained tooth drops from his mouth]
          Zapp: Gold? I thought that was cheese.
        • by dr_d_19 ( 206418 )
          They could!

          But they will probably buy tar from Lockheed, sold under the name LGAPG (Low Gravity Adhesive Protective Gum) for $4,000,000 per ounce.
        • by mstahl ( 701501 )

          NASA should give me funding to test this theory :-)

          Uhhhh yeah! Me too. Let's send in a grant request to them for a couple of cartons of Luckies.

        • by picob ( 1025968 )
          Dust causes lung cancer, NASA is to blame, so we can't have dust. No, let's smoke to produce tar, Dust problem solved.

          What? you still got lung cancer? Duh... that's because you smoke.

      • Because it has not been smoothed down by water and wind. Only hits of meteorites scatter stuff there, and that is not enough to smooth away edges on grains of silica and other rough rocks.

        Exactly. It's like inhaling microscopic shards of glass.

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      For starters, most "normal" household dust is flakes of skin, the greater portion not containing the great deal of silicates, metalic compounds and other "hard" materials which the lunar dust seems to mainly composed of. There's also the morphology, size and shape of the individual particles to consider, as they seem to differ quite a bit from the standard earthly variety.

      From what I can gather, from the various articles cited, the closest setting that comes close producing the problem lunar dust presents e
    • "Why is Lunar dust so different than "normal" dust and/or sand that we breathe and/or eat every day?"

      Moon dust is just broken glass. It has microscopic sharp edges and is strong and abrasive. On Earth there is water and air and the dust gets moved around and the sharp edges get worn off quickly by a weathering process. The dust on the Moon is created by imacts where rock gets melted and fractured, those fractures make sharp edges that last forever. Beach sand here on Earth gets tumbled by wave acted an
  • Wha.....? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by LordPhantom ( 763327 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @01:19AM (#18258966)
    But moon dust could also lodge in astronauts' lungs, possibly triggering long-term health effects.

    Possibly? Is there not a consensus that this is likely to cause disease like silicosis?
    • Re:Wha.....? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by arivanov ( 12034 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @05:56AM (#18260022) Homepage

      Moon dust off the surface has been nicely activated by radiation and sun over centuries. It is not the relatively inert silica you get from cutting glass and rocks. It can catalyse all kinds of strange and wonderfull reactions because cosmic ray particles have kicked out (or even modified) an atom here and there and it has remained there in a very active form due to the lack of atmosphere. On earth it would have been deactivated nearly immediately by oxygen, water or even nitrogen from the air. On the moon it will stay active nearly for ever and over the years there will be more and more of these on the surface of each particle. Add to that the habit to accumulate static charges (which is actually related to the surface being active) so it sticks everywhere and you got yourself a really nasty problem on your hands.

      Moon dust is something you do not like having anywhere near lungs and in fact anywhere near the innards of a space station. Think of asbestous, but with nearly instantaneous effect and the habit to cling to everything.

      In the 60-es they did not care about health and safety. Nowdays, this would be considerably more difficult to ignore.
    • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) *
      Am I the only one here who thinks this is one of the silliest articles today?


      It's just more NASA talk, no more meaningful than a 1970's Popular Science article speculating about the problems we'll face when we build our moonbases in the 1980's.


  • giant lint rollers

    You have to be F***ing kidding.
    • I agree, a giant vaccuum hose, or a super powered compressed-air sprayer would be much more practical and easier to handle too.
      • What about an electrostatic approach? Charge up the outside of the suite then charge a wall panel that also has sticky scotch like stuff on it with the oppsite charge and let the dust jump right off the suite. Cover the panel and re-pressurize the cabin. I would think a giant vacuum would be heavier than a sheet of scotch tape and a high voltage generator...

        • by beowulf ( 12899 )
          Adam Selene calls Sharper Image. "I'd like to order 1000 of your largest Ionic Breeze machines. And do you deliver? Great, the address is 823 de la Paz Way, Luna City. Have a nice day."
        • While my post was originally a joke (though it kind of tripped over the line between ludicrous and hilarious, falling flat on its face at mundane) I was thinking of the folds, creases, and crevasses the dust could get into. I decided that 'passive' methods like attractive forces of magnets, or methods involving ungainly giant lint rollers, wouldn't do. So I figured a hose vaccuum, kind of like what they use in the space shower, could be applied by the user to get into the pits of the suit. Or otherwise usin
    • by montyzooooma ( 853414 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @04:27AM (#18259712)
      "magnetic wands and giant lint rollers."

      Yeah, apparently the space program is now doing their purchasing on the Shopping Channel.

    • by SkyDude ( 919251 )

      giant lint rollers

      You have to be F***ing kidding.

      This could lead to the birth of a new industry.

  • Before assuming... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Monkey_Genius ( 669908 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @01:29AM (#18259012)
    That lunar dust is "not hazardous", read this: MICRO-MORPHOLOGY AND TOXICOLOGICAL EFFECTS OF LUNAR DUST [] The part about "glass shards" really brings the "point" home.
  • I bet 3M can do a better job with this than anyone. Make a non-stick so the dust won't carry.
    • Re:Ask 3M. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @01:58AM (#18259174)
      Actually one of the problems with lunar dust is that it has a charge. Imagine sticking your arm in a box of packaging peanuts and pulling it out and have a number of the peanuts stuck to your arm. It's along that type of concept. The other big issue with lunar dust is that it's very abrasive. I believe in the original lunar missions, when they scooped up lunar dust into containers, it cut the o-rings on the containers that they brought the lunar dust back in.

      I am currently involved in an experiment to use a circuit board to remove the lunar dust from solar panels in lunar gravity. If you tried and brushed it off, it would scratch the glass and the solar panels would become less efficient. The circuit has been proven before, but we're (as far as I know) the first ones to try it in lunar gravity. Hopefully this concept can be adapted in the future to create a lunar dust "vacuum cleaner" or maybe apply it to "repel" dust in other ways.
      • I would think you could afford to use a hard scratch resistant coating, like maybe sapphire, instead of glass on solar cells sent to Luna. I suspect that's much harder than the dust.
      • by bronney ( 638318 )
        Ah thanks for the info. So they're statically charged? So you actually need something to ground whoever or whatever is picking them up? We already have "anti-static" materials here on earth right? Those coatings on the new LCD monitors. Or are they not really anti-static?
      • by jdray ( 645332 )

        we're (as far as I know) the first ones to try it in lunar gravity

        So, just out of curiosity, how are you replicating that here on Earth?

    • Perhaps, but if you make astronauts any more repulsive than they presently are, the complications resulting from additional unrequited love would have to be dealt with.
  • Hello, iRobot? Yeah I'd like to place an order for 1 million Roombas. And uhhh, what kind of delivery charge is there for the Moon?
  • by the_other_one ( 178565 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @01:56AM (#18259158) Homepage
    The iRobot Moonba
  • by edwardpickman ( 965122 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @01:58AM (#18259170)
    Finally a use for Ionic Breezes!
  • This is not a showstopper.

    Additionally, shooting these "Astronauts" into space isn't getting us anywhere.

    We need to send Norm Abrams. And hell, send some of them other remodeling people. Send some of those makeover people. Send Flav, Vern, and Janice Dickenson and some other b/c listers, sell the rights and the whole damn thing is self financing.

  • by McDrewbie ( 530348 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @02:04AM (#18259204)
    Wouldn't it be more prudent to just take 1 billion of those dollars and spend it looking for near earth asteroids.
    • by AJWM ( 19027 )
      Asteroids have dust too. Your point?
  • I'm thinking they could insert their helmet into the air lock, and crawl out. That way, they'd only need to worry about dust that gathered on the helmet. But I suppose it would be expensive/impossible to design and make a one piece suit.
    • If you design the suit right, you don't even need an airlock.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      I'm thinking they could insert their helmet into the air lock, and crawl out. That way, they'd only need to worry about dust that gathered on the helmet. But I suppose it would be expensive/impossible to design and make a one piece suit.

      They would need to bring samples, equipment, and suits into the habitat for research and maintenance. The dust is so abrasive that the outer surfaces of the suits wear away quickly and would need to be regularly replaced.

  • But moon dust could also lodge in astronauts' lungs, possibly triggering long-term health effects.

    Well, then it's good that there's no air on the Moon, so they'll asphyxiate long before the dust can cause any problems. :)

  • by OpenSourced ( 323149 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @03:47AM (#18259594) Journal
    reduce the amount of lunar dust

    Previously astronauts were men, which are all pigs, as is well known. Now the solution is obvious. Send a woman to every moon mission and she certainly won't tolerate dust, moon or other kind, to accumulate in the living quarters, solving the problem. I can already hear her... "Commander! If I've told you once I've told you a thousand times. CLEAN YOUR FEET before coming in!"

    Just...let's hope they don't try to open the windows when dusting.
    • by IHC Navistar ( 967161 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @04:26AM (#18259708)
      Yeah...send a woman.....

      Every time a New Moon comes around, she'll bith the living hell out of Mission Control. However, there is an upside: Mission Control has a 'mute' button.
      I can hear it already:

      Lunar Lander: "Goddamn it! Who the hell tracked dirt in here?! I just finished cleaning this mess up! Am I the only one who picks up around here?!"

      Mission Control: "Ma'am, just calm down, Everything is going to be fine."

      Lunar Lander: "Fine?! How the hell is this 'fine'?!"

      Mission Control: "Look, just calm down. It's nothing to get pissy about. Jeez... just frickin' relax!"

      Lunar Lander: "REALX?! That's all you ever do is relax! Every time I come in it's nothin but you sitting down in front of the damn TV with---"
      Mission Control: "So, Bob, you catch the race the other day?"
      Mission Control: "Yeah. Speaking of races, see if you can put NASCAR up on the big screen.
      Mission Control: "Hold on a sec. Lemme check just one thing first....."
      Mission Control: "What you guys wanna watch? Fishing, Foxworthy, or Nascar?
      (sounds of beer cans opening, feet being put up on the table, and loud belching)
  • the astronauts are forced to enter the landing vehicle, flood the airlock with air and pressurize it, have them remain in their suits and strap in securely as the airlock de-pressurizes and the vacuum sucks that dust out before it can get inside, minus the tiny bits that'd come in stuck to the bottom of astro-boots or in creases of astro-suits. It'd take a long time for silicosis or lung/tissue damage from micro-glass shards to actually occur. I'd think this type of protocol would make this a non-issue, how
    • as the airlock de-pressurizes and the vacuum sucks that dust out before it can get inside, minus the tiny bits that'd come in stuck to the bottom of astro-boots or in creases of astro-suits

      You're thinking like an earthling.

      Moon dust isn't like dirt, it's more like soot or ash. It doesn't just stick in the creases and cracks, it coats everything, and it is very abrasive.

      You can't just wipe/blow it off. This stuff is nasty.

  • The solution is simple, just send an advance party of experienced house cleaners to clean the surface up a litte. They can send the full dust bags into moon orbit using little mini-thrusters. This also provides much-needed employment for the badly paid.

    I would have suggested a fleet of Roomba carrrying vessels but they might take over the moon and clain it for the Roomba republic.

    I hope this comment is helpful for the many valuable people working on this problem.
  • Gasp (Score:5, Funny)

    by Jeppe Utzon ( 721797 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @05:06AM (#18259864) Homepage
    During the relatively short Apollo Moon landing missions nearly 40 years ago, astronauts reported difficulty breathing.

    And that is how we discovered that the Moon doesn't have an atmosphere...
  • Why are we not sending a pair (or cluster no less) of roving robots, like we the ones on Mars, up there to study it ahead of sending weak skintube humans?

    There should be a huge push to really advance the robotics technology and deploy these throughout the known galaxy. But of course the stupid humans would rather blow there time, $$ and technology to fight wars and kill each other. Sigh....almost makes one ashamed to be human. Almost?

  • by Anonymous Coward
    The clear solution is to use massive lasers to glass the entire surface of the moon over.
    This would have the added benefit of increasing it's reflective properties resulting in lower electricity costs for street lighting and fewer violent crimes at night as well as reducing overall greenhouse emissions and helping to reverse global warming. Oh and it would help stop terrorists.

    Lasers... Is there anything they can't do?
  • This is easily resolved by shipping the Moon units without astronauts.
  • ...cos my first thought on seeing the headline was

    "People on airless planet report problems breathing"

    which doesn't really seem to be pushing back the frontiers of human knowledge....

  • "Space Madness" (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Garrett Fox ( 970174 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @08:31AM (#18260666) Homepage
    A recent book (reviewed here []) denounces the entire concept of manned spaceflight as the useless "madness" of boys who never outgrew childish games. Milder critics of the space program ask why we should send humans into space when automated probes are supposedly more useful for their price. Not too long ago, Discover Magazine had a cover article asking whether, maybe, space is so innately dangerous (with all that radiation) that we should avoid going back until we have robots or gengineered humans (!) able to cope with it. Others such as Vox Day [], hater of humanity, begin using their word processors to declare that "science has outlived its usefulness to Mankind." And here, we have NASA saying hold everything; we're afraid of the dust.

    (An excerpt from the book:
    "If there is a lesson to be learned, it is in the futility of seeking fulfillment in outer space. We need to judge ourselves by who we are, not by where we go... Hubris took America to the Moon, a barren, soulless place where humans do not belong... If the voyage has had any positive benefit at all, it has reminded us that everything that is good reside on Earth.")

    "We're not worthy, it's not safe, nothing we've ever done is worthwhile." I see this line of thinking as suicidal for the human race. If transhumanism is a supposedly unrealistic fantasy of doing more things than have ever been done before, then shall we call this sentiment "subhumanism," the desire for people to set their sights below what's been accomplished already?

    • While I agree with most of your comment, I think I understand what NASA is saying, and it isn't "hold everything" but rather more of a "slow down, we need a solution to this dust problem." The dust is definately a problem, but not one that is insurmountable. The dust is abrasive to space suits and equipment, it is harmful to breathe it in. NASA is looking for the optimal solution to the problem. It may be something as simple as a shower in the airlock and recycle the water, or blow it off in the airlock and
  • How about a shower? Or a bucket of water with a mop?

    We may not have (much) water on the moon, but what we bring with us we can be recycled, and we do have gravity.

  • Why not in the air lock have air nossles that spray down the astronauts suits as they come in? Similar to the ones in hosiptals and such. It would spray all the dust off and stay in that one room (or most of it).
  • Silly question perhaps, but how are they able to breath the dust? Aren't they in a contained suit since there is no atmosphere on the moon or is this from dust built up on the suit and inhaled while they're taking the suit off?
  • Magnetic dust?

    So putting someone with heavy lung contamination into an MRI machine will result in a perforated astronaut?

    ObMovieReference: Just like what Magneto did to that security guard in X2?
  • by Chacham ( 981 )
    I for one welcome our new giant lint rollerlords.
  • If you've ever had one of those sticky rubbery toys that you fling at a wall and it slowly climbs down, you'll know the tacky surface picks up all sorts of dust and crap and you have to wash it with soap to clean them. Just spray the spacesuits with this stuff and the dust will stick to it safely... :-)
  • Microwave the dust! (Score:2, Informative)

    by jci ( 521890 )
    I went to a lunch presentation on returning to the moon. One of the ideas for longer term use like colonization was to make roads by microwaving the regolith. []

    The iron melts into a continuous crust instead of being so abrasive and sharp []
  • Yet another problem that would be completely solved if we'd just listen to the fine folks at
  • chest congestion is the least of your problems if you're "breathing" dust on the surface of the moon? IANAA (I am not an astronaut) but maybe they could use the "vacuum" to loose the dust, or use an Andromeda Strainer.
  • My dad used to work at a company on Long Island that had a spacesuit on display in the hallways, back in the mid-80's. I saw it on many a company tour.

    When I later joined as a summer intern, I noticed that the suit was no longer on display; it was missing from the building entirely. I found out that NASA had given the suit, but took it back once they realized that they had never cleaned the space dust off the suit.

    Maybe my exposure is why I have asthma. :-)
  • by clintp ( 5169 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @01:34PM (#18263994)
    Let's look at the guinea pigs we sent to the moon:

    Still kicking:
    Buzz Aldrin is still alive. He's 77.
    Neil Armstrong is still alive. He's 76.
    Alan Bean is still alive. 75.
    Edgar Mitchell. 77 and counting.
    David Scott. 75 and counting.
    John Young, 77.
    Charles Duke, 72.
    Eugene Cernan, 73.
    Harrison Schmidt, 73.

    Died, accident:
    Pete Conrad died in 1999 at age 69. (Accident, crash)

    Died, disease
    Alan Shephard died at age 75 from leukemia.
    James Irwin in 1991 at age 61. (Heart failure, which may have been a preexisting condition and caused him to suffer a heart attack during Apollo 15)

    Not bad, actually. They should be healthier than the normal person, sure, but I don't see rampant cancer, lung or cardiovascular disease running roughshod over the ranks of the men who've been on the moon.

    I call Bullshit.
  • "returns to the moon"???
  • by jmichaelg ( 148257 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @02:26PM (#18264932) Journal
    Another idea to deal with the dust is to fuse the surface around the habitat. The dust doesn't migrate like it does here on earth because there isn't an atmosphere to waft it. You knock dust loose on the moon, it plummets directly to the ground like a bowling ball. So the idea is to melt the regolith around the habitat so that most of the dust is shed just walking across a paved surface to the habitat. It won't get rid of all the mess, but it'll cut it down.

    The Apollo 12 astronauts dealt with the problem in an ad-hoc, but effective, fashion. Gordon, the command module pilot, wouldn't let Bean and Conrad back in until they stripped to buck naked because he didn't want them gunging up their ride home. As they were firing up the engine to leave lunar orbit, one of them joked that if the engine failed, the recovery crew would be wondering why a couple of the astronauts were naked.
  • There's no air on the moon! AMIRITE???
  • >So now, before astronauts return to the moon in 2020

    oh come on. Why are we wasting money preparing for a project we know is going to get canceled? I mean... who really thinks that when it comes time to actually send someone, and we need to actually pay for it, that it's not going to get canceled? This is a lot of nonsense about one politician trying to take credit for an ambitious program and forcing another future politician to suffer from its eventual failure.

The optimum committee has no members. -- Norman Augustine