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The Dangers of Lunar Dust

NASA is planning to send astronauts back to the moon fairly soon. However, there are a few kinks to work out, like what to do about moon dust.

Astronauts on the Moon

Photo: bre pettis (flickr)

The problem of lunar dust must be fixed before a permanent lunar base is built

Back in the 1960s and ’70s, sending astronauts to the moon was a big deal, but few people talk about it much right now. Even though we haven’t been back to the moon since the 1970s, NASA is planning to send astronauts back to the moon fairly soon. Instead of just landing for a few hours to take samples and photographs, this time there’s a plan to build a lunar base where astronauts can stay for week or months at a time to conduct more complex experiments and research in the low gravity.

However, there are a few kinks to work out, like what to do about moon dust. Moon dust doesn’t sound that dangerous, but it has chemical properties that resemble freshly-fractured quartz, which is pretty toxic. It’s also clingy; it can stick to spacesuits and interior areas. The Apollo astronauts used to complain that there was so much dust inside the capsule that they could smell it.

To keep the next generation of lunar astronauts safe, scientists are studying what to do to lower the health risks from the abrasive dust. One issue is that the moon’s lower gravity can allow dust particles to float around more, perhaps into an astronaut’s airway and lungs. This problem will definitely have to be solved before sending astronauts up there to set up house on our very dusty moon.

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