Dealing with Dust: A Back to the Moon Dilemma


If political, technical and budgetary stars align to NASA and its partners in the coming years, the moon may be in place in front of the century. Astronauts will again locate Earth’s astronomical next-door neighbor, perhaps in future mining efforts to try to extract ions that are lurking in the rays of sunlight for processing into water, oxygen, and rocket propellants. Man who “settles” on the Moon may well be a future prospect.

Earth’s moon is a dusty dinner in a deep place. View from the International Space Station. Sincerely: NASA / Jeff Williams

The next chapter in American human exploration of the moon, the Artemis Project, will send the crew there for an extended period, building on Apollo’s legacy. Between the end of 1969 and 1972, a dozen astronauts kicked off the moon’s uppermost dirt, the powder regolith. But there is a flash back message from Apollo Moonwalkers, which is worth hacking: that place is Disneyland of Dust.

During their landing, dust flying in a dusty lunar atmosphere affected the astronauts’ visibility. Once the crew were out and about the moon, dust had a very bad effect on their spacecraft, helmets, equipment and equipment. The members of the Apollo expedition could not avoid tracking lunar material inside their lunar landers. After taking off their helmets and gloves, Moonwalkers could feel the abrasive nature of the dust, even experiencing an “Apollo scent” – a distinctive, foul odor.

As explained by Apollo 17’s moon landing crew:

“I think that dust is probably one of our biggest inhibitors for a minor operation on the moon. I think we can overcome other physical or physical or mechanical problems except dust, ”said mission commander Eugene Sernan. “One of the most aggressive, restrictive aspects of lunar surface exploration is the observance of dust and everything in it, no matter what kind of material it is, whether it is skin, suit material, metal, whatever it is and its restrictions. There is friction-like action. Everything goes over it, “said Harrison Schmidt, lunar module pilot and geologist.

Agency, Industry Conference

Study groups and technologists are assessing ways to reduce the negative impact of lunar dust on astronauts, their equipment, and surface operations.

Apollo 17 commander Eugene Seran prepares to create a dust-covered moonwalking spacesuit. Sincerely: NASA

Joel Levine was a research professor of applied sciences at The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, convenor and president of the NASA workshop on moon dust and its impact on human exploration. The message of that workshop held in February was clear. “Before the first Artemis human landing on the moon, we must better understand the particle size distribution, structure, chemical composition, potential toxicity, magnetic and electrical properties and the dynamics and distribution of lunar dust,” he said.

The workshop’s findings were published as a NASA Engineering and Safety Center technical evaluation report on September 24, stating that the dust problem is “an agency and industry concern affecting most mission sub-systems and addressed should be done.” The report also states that it is important that measurements and experiments can be carried out on the lunar surface by predecessor landers to detect dust characteristics “that will affect hardware design, and to protect crew health.” Toxicology will provide data. “

Safety moon

Gerald Sanders, an expert in in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate at Johnson Space Center in Houston, said challenges to future machinery on the moon would be presented. Unlike other devices and devices that work on the Moon, ISRU systems and hardware are required to be in constant and direct contact with lunar and dust continuously for long periods of time. It is important, he said, to develop techniques and technologies, to resist friction, to protect optical coatings as well as to protect rotating mechanisms. Finally, the easily replaceable components in the lunar located gear will be important.

After the last human trek to the moon in December 1972, Apollo 17 helmets and dusty spacesuits filled up inside a lunar lander. Credit: NASA

“While the Apollo missions and specimens have returned to Earth, providing a wealth of information, it will not be until the VIP rover enters the permanently capped area that we get the right idea. How the regolith is designed to design ice devices of the future. “Said Sanders. Polar Exploration Rover, or VIPER, examining NASA’s vatiles, is a mobile robot likely under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services Program. By 2022 the Moon will be at the South Pole.

Philip Metzger, a planetary physicist at the Faculty of Planetary Science at the University of Central Florida, has focused his research on the transport of dust and its effects due to spacecraft landing on the Moon.

“The laser lander engine blows out exhaust dust, mud, gravel, and rocks at high velocity and will damage surrounding hardware such as lunar outposts, mining operations, or historic sites unless evicted,” Metzger.

Decades of research have developed a coherent picture of the physics of rocket exits flying the lunar soil, “but significant gaps exist,” Metbird said. “No currently available modeling method can fully predict effects. However, the fundamentals are well understood when beginning to design a countermeasure.

Metager is the principal investigator for the EJECA sheet tracking, opacity and regolith maturity (STORM) instrument, scheduled to fly on the Masten space system Zodiac vertical takeoff and vertical landing system. The ensuing flight at Mojave, California, will estimate the density and size of particles that churn during terrestrial simulations of lunar landings.

Integrated Dust Structure

NASA wants to place the first woman and the next man at the lunar south pole in 2024. The place is advocated as a future base camp that has access to ice and other mineral resources. However, the still unknown polar regions have actual physical properties of lunar dust and regoliths.

Dust to be displaced by engine exhaust from Apollo 15 mission lunar lander, Falcon. Sincerely: NASA

Jorge Nudges of the Planetary Exploration Group at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, said a host of questions need to be dealt with. “We can make estimates based on the data that we already have, but we won’t really know until we land in those areas.”

“As we learned from the Apollo mission, lunar dust is a threat to the health of astronauts, as well as causing a wide range of issues by sticking to all types of surfaces such as spacesuits, visors and windows, solar panels and radiators Can become, ”said Nusez. Lunar dust also degrades seals, clothes, and mechanisms. Dust handling requires an “integrated dust mitigation strategy”, he said, such as using slow, systematic movements and allowing sufficient time for dust cleaning protocols, as well as pressurized habitat or lunar To use spacesuits outside the rover. Dusting the material to remove an electrodynamic dust shield.

Nusez said NASA’s Lunar Surface Innovation Initiative is accelerating the development of many of these dust mitigation techniques that are important to enable manned missions to the lunar surface.

Moon Simmons

The reactive nature of lunar dust to humans is another area marked by Carl Hibbitts of APL, the key facilitator for the ISRU Focus Group of the lunar surface innovation consortium. Lunar dust has been known to trouble the region since the Apollo era. The particles are chemically very reactive, he said, thus a potential health concern (although various Passion techniques are being explored to make them less reactive).

Bootprint of Apollo 11 Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin. Aldrin pulled this bootprint on July 20, 1969, for nearly an hour in his lunar-vehicle related activities as part of an investigation into the soil mechanics of the lunar surface. This picture would later become synonymous with mankind’s venture into space. Credit; NASA

“We have attempted to study the reactivity of lunar soil in the laboratory,” Hibbitts said, “but I know that all studies have been done on samples already changed by the Earth’s atmosphere. On carefully cut lunar soil The new study is expected to give some new insights. In addition, as far as “simulants” go – predicting material built on Earth to mimic the properties of the lunar regolith – one must choose which properties to imitate. Doers need to be duped. “It is not possible to literally make tons of lunar soil, or possibly even a small amount. Facilities are now just stating how realistic agglutination is made,” he said. And yet to be reproduced is nanopase metal iron located in the moon’s regolith.

“We are getting better at estimating the size and shape distribution function, but the reactivity can only be mimicked by production in a vacuum chamber and will always be limited to small amounts,” Hibbitts pointed out SpaceNews.

So far, human contact with only small, very sharp, glassy lunar dust particles during Apollo missions, said Peter Sim, an emergency medical specialist from Newport News, Virginia. Lunar dust represents, in sufficient amounts, a “toxic threat” to human health, for its return to the moon and its long-term presence, he said.

The respiratory system is particularly susceptible, Sim said, but the eyes, skin and possibly the gastrointestinal tract and other organs can also be affected. He said the primary prevention of human exposure to lunar dust “should be our number one goal”.

He said NASA’s new Exploration Extraordinary Mobility Unit (xEMU) will help keep dust on the spacesuit bay. It has a set of dust-tolerant features, which protect the suite’s life support system from being inhaled or corrupted. Nevertheless, minimizing habitats, and using effective atmospheric filtration systems to remain dust-free will be a major challenge. “The monitoring of dust inside the lunar abode will be important, because the hub is the place where astronauts are most likely to be. Because of this, the quantity, size, and potential toxicity of ‘hab dust’ is paramount.


SpaceNews contributor Leonard David Is the author of “Moon Rush: The New Space Race” published by National Geographic in May 2019.

This article originally appeared in the December 14, 2020 issue of SpaceNews magazine.

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