AS16-116-18719

The Moon Is Toxic

Article Updated: 23 Dec , 2015
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As our closest neighbor in space, a time-capsule of planetary evolution and the only world outside of Earth that humans have stepped foot on, the Moon is an obvious and ever-present location for future exploration by humans. The research that can be done on the Moon — as well as from it — will be invaluable to science. But the only times humans have visited the Moon were during quick, dusty  jaunts on its surface, lasting only 2-3 days each before departing. Long-term human exposure to the lunar environment has never been studied in depth, and it’s quite possible that — in addition to the many inherent dangers of living and working in space — the Moon itself may be toxic to humans.

An international team of researchers has attempted to quantify the health dangers of the Moon — or at least its dust-filled regolith. In a paper titled “Toxicity of Lunar Dust” (D. Linnarsson et al.) the health hazards of the Moon’s fine, powdery dust — which plagued Apollo astronauts both in and out of their suits — are investigated in detail (or as best as they can be without actually being on the Moon with the ability to collect pristine samples.)

Within their research the team, which included physiologists, pharmacologists, radiologists and toxicologists from 5 countries, investigated some of the following potential health hazards of lunar dust:

Inhalation. By far the most harmful effects of lunar dust would come from inhalation of the particulates. Even though lunar explorers would be wearing protective gear, suit-bound dust can easily make its way back into living and working areas — as Apollo astronauts quickly discovered. Once inside the lungs the super-fine, sharp-edged lunar dust could cause a slew of health issues, affecting the respiratory and cardiovascular system and causing anything from airway inflammation to increased risks of various cancers. Like pollutants encountered on Earth, such as asbestos and volcanic ash, lunar dust particles are small enough to penetrate deep within lung tissues, and may be made even more dangerous by their long-term exposure to proton and UV radiation. In addition, the research suggests a microgravity environment may only serve to ease the transportation of dust particles throughout the lungs.

Skin Damage. Lunar regolith has been found to be very sharp-edged, mainly because it hasn’t undergone the same kind of erosive processes that soil on Earth has. Lunar soil particles are sometimes even coated in a glassy shell, the result of rock vaporization by meteorite impacts. Even the finer particles of dust — which constitute about 20% of returned lunar soil samples — are rather sharp, and as such pose a risk of skin irritation in instances of exposure. Of particular note by the research team is abrasive damage to the outer layer of skin at sites of “anatomical prominence”, i.e., fingers, knuckles, elbows, knees, etc.

“The dust was so abrasive that it actually wore through three layers of Kevlar-like material on Jack [Schmitt’s] boot.”

– Professor Larry Taylor, Director of the Planetary Geosciences Institute, University of Tennessee (2008)

Eye Damage. Needless to say, if particles can pose abrasive damage to human skin, similar danger to the eyes is also a concern. Whether lunar dust makes its way into the eye via airborne movement (again, much more of a concern in microgravity) or through direct contact from fingers or another dust-coated object, the result is the same: danger of abrasion. Having a scratched cornea is no fun, but if you’re busy working on the Moon at the time it could turn into a real emergency.

While the research behind the paper used data about airborne pollutants known to exist on Earth and simulated lunar dust particles, actual lunar dust is harder to test. The samples returned by the Apollo missions have not been kept in a true lunar-like environment — being removed from exposure to radiation and not stored in a vacuum, for instance — and as such may not accurately exhibit the properties of actual dust as it would be encountered on the Moon. The researchers conclude that only studies conducted on-site will fill the gaps in our knowledge of lunar dust toxicity. Still, the research is a step in the right direction as it looks to ensure a safe environment for future explorers on the Moon, our familiar — yet still alien — satellite world.

Read the team’s paper in full here.

“The Apollo astronauts reported undesirable effects affecting the skin, eyes and airways that could be related to exposure to the dust that had adhered to their space suits during their extravehicular activities and was subsequently brought into their spacecraft.”

– Dag Linnarsson, lead author, Toxicity of Lunar Dust

Top image: Apollo 16 astronaut Charlie Duke with a dust-coated LRV. Side image: a dusty Gene Cernan in the LM at the end of an Apollo 17 EVA. (NASA/JSC)

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84 Responses

  1. Gozlemci says:

    “The Moon is Toxic”…”…
    may be toxic…”
    “Is” or “may be” ?

    • squidgeny says:

      Gotta agree with the implication here. I know it’s tempting to go for attention-grabbing tabloid-like headlines, but it’s a tad insulting to this site’s audience who are usually intelligent enough to see through it (as evidenced by every single slightly controversial heading being called out in the comments… which is often tedious and predictable, but also necessary feedback in my opinion)

      I don’t have an issue with this particular article heading but I’ve noticed a trend.

      • Jason Major says:

        Unlike a scientific paper submitted for journal publication, Universe Today IS a blog and as such demands a gripping headline, lest it be passed over by the unwashed (if not the washed) masses. As long as the lead-in paragraph “above the fold” accurately portrays the true nature of the article, IMO, all’s fair in love and blogging. 🙂

      • squidgeny says:

        Good point. My comparison with a tabloid is rather unfair then, since they tend to hide the truth in last paragraph!

      • Jason Major says:

        If it’s included at all!

  2. ozonator says:

    Astronauts reported the Moon smelled like gunpowder. Long term exposure would be toxic and death would be a race to toxic death or a massive allergic reaction. Naturally, North Carolina and the NRA would pass laws all over the place making the Moon legally non-toxic.

  3. Bariman43 says:

    So it looks like Portal 2 was right, ground up moon rocks are pure poison.

  4. Lorin Ionita says:

    I wonder. Is Mars the same? Or having an atmosphere you get erosion and it prevents that?

  5. I3VI5 says:

    So the lesson is to always have a shower before entering the living quarters.

  6. Dampe says:

    Note to self: Always wear a spacesuit when walking on the Lunar surface…

  7. So to summarize: moon dust is abrasive, so don’t get it in your eyes, rub it on your skin, or inhale it. This is very much NOT a toxic substance, by the facts presented in this article.

    Unless you want to tell me that knives are toxic because it can cut your eyes, your skin, and your lungs?

    • IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE says:

      There are generally three types of toxic entities; chemical, biological, and physical:

      Physical toxicants are substances that, due to their physical nature, interfere with biological processes. Examples include coal dust and asbestos fibers, both of which can ultimately be fatal if inhaled.

      • Thanks for the Wikipedia copy-and-paste.

        Now: do you actually understand what you’ve pasted there?

        Asbestos directly interferes with an organism that inhales it, or absorbes it through its skin. Note that other, long term effects of asbestos exposure, such as cancer, are not relevant. Asbestos directly makes you sick. Therefore it’s harmful via chemical or poisonous means, and is therefore toxic.

        Moon dust, at least according to the information provided in this article, does not interfere with the biological processes. Except in the same way that a knife could, because it can cut you, but a knife isn’t toxic, is it?

      • IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE says:

        Moon dust, […], does not interfere with the biological processes.

        They used to think that about asbestos, too!

      • squidgeny says:

        “Knife” isn’t a substance. Only substances can have the quality of toxicity.

      • Lol. Ok, I’ll have to consider this carefully.

        …several hours pass…

        Ok. I’ll rephrase my hyperbolic example:
        “Unless you want to tell me that water is toxic because it can cut your eyes, your skin, and your lungs when frozen?”

        Are you now going to find some other word in the Wikipedia copy-and-paste which you imagine to invalidate my point?

        You need to learn that a small thing like “is it a substance or not” is not the germane portion of arguments like this.

      • squidgeny says:

        Why so rude? First you sarcastically thank IVAN3MAN for quoting wikipedia, and now you’re telling me I “need to learn” something.

        I’m not interested in discussing anything with someone who is going to be rudely defensive. You’re going to have to take this semantic debate up with someone else.

      • I can easily answer your questions.

        Firstly, IVAN only quoted Wikipedia. That’s it. He made no actual comment of his own. Even the part that looks like it’s not quoted is also copied and pasted directly from Wikipedia. It’s therefore a valueless post.

        Secondly, you are clearly in need of some attitude adjustment. If you are of the opinion that you can learn nothing, then you are probably a lost cause.

      • IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE says:

        Why should I make “an actual comment of [my] own”? Experience from ‘debates’ with AGW deniers, in the Universe Today comments, has taught me that the likes of you are only trolling for a reaction!

      • I feel that a response should be more considered, and less “plagiaristic”. You put zero effort into your grand response. Do you expect me to be impressed with that? Not to mention that what you copied and pasted doesn’t even support a position that opposes mine. Why do it at all?

      • IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE says:

        Why do it at all?

        For the benefit of other readers, dude. You are entitled to your own opinion, but not to your own facts!

      • But what benefit did your post provide, in your opinion?

        Let’s see:
        1. It was something every single person who cared saw anyway, because they also looked on Wikipedia.
        2. Your pasted information supports my factual rendition of what the word toxic means. So you’ve added no value.
        3. Whether you agree or disagree is not even clear, since you make no statement at all.

        I can provide millions of facts. Facts are unimportant in science, because they have no intrinsic value.

        If you tell me that water is wet, then I would have to respond: “So what?”

        What value do you think you’re adding?

      • IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE says:

        I can provide millions of facts. Facts are unimportant in science, because they have no intrinsic value.

        Now you sound like a creationist!

      • Facts have no value in science.

        Only repeatable obvervations have some value.

        The order of things that science takes note of, are, from lowest to highest:
        1. Facts. A dime a dozen, and without intrinsic meaning.
        2. Repeatable observations. These are more interesting, because they can be repeated by oneself and by others.
        3. Hypothesis. This is a way to explain observations.
        4. Models. This is a mathematical way to describe the hypothesis, and provides a basis for a test bed before any physical testing.
        5. Experiments. These test predicted observations, and should result in some more repeatable observations.
        6. Laws. These are verified summaries provided by the mathematics in the model, and borne out by observed data that was obtained by the mathematical model and subsequent experimentation. These laws are only artefacts of theories, and do not control reality. Rather, laws describe reality as best as the theory from which they came can describe it.
        7. Theories. The highest level of anything the scientific method can produce. This will be a set of observations, laws, models, and explanations for the same, along with predictions of what might happen or be observed in certain situations. We are still testing aspects of the Theory of General Relativity, although many aspects of it has been verified in different ways, in different experiments, and by different groups of people.

        So when I say facts are unimportant, it’s because they are.

        You know nothing about science at all.

      • IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE says:

        And you know nothing about the definition of fact!

      • Lee White says:

        This just in “Moon dust found to be hazardous to friendly conversation”

      • It’s like you’re deaf, or something

        I agree 100% with your provided reference as to what a FACT is.

        This in no way changes anything I’ve said about science and facts. Please learn something about science.

      • squidgeny says:

        Give it up Ivan, just vape the thread 🙂

      • DrunkVegan says:

        “Facts are unimportant in science, because they have no intrinsic value.” And the award for the most ridiculous statement of this thread goes to… Don’t worry though, we know what meant. “Facts have a well-known liberal bias.”

      • *sigh*

        Light is fast. Light moved at C. Those are facts. Great. They’re true. So what?

        In the hierarchy of importance, facts are at the lowest level. They are therefore unimportant.

        Theories, such as the Theory of Relativity, are at the highest level of importance.

        If you think my statement is ridiculous, it’s because you have previously held beliefs, in which facts have value, and theories do not have value, because you deem theories to be unproven, while somehow facts are proven and therefore you think – completely incorrectly – that facts have value.

        But facts have no intrinsic value. Only theories have value, because theories can explain things, and also predict things.

        Facts, in the scientific method, are the least important things of all.

        Obviously we cannot create a theory that goes against facts. But facts are just reality. We expect facts to exist. Facts are unremarkable. We need to understand and explain reality, however, and for that we need to progress far beyond mere facts, and to the ultimate goal: a Theory.

      • DrunkVegan says:

        Wow, you assume a lot about where I’m coming from based on a two sentence reply.

        I’ll ignore most of your statement which is essentially just reiterating your statement that facts are irrelevant, and just say this:

        Of course theories are important. I’m not at all confused with the difference between a theory and a hypothesis as many people are.

        But you’re looking at a pyramid, if you will, and you flat out say that the foundation of that pyramid “is unimportant and has no intrinsic value.” But remove that foundation and the entire structure collapses.

        One can concoct very cogent and brilliant theories based entirely on mathematics which are consistent and viable, but have absolutely no basis in our physical universe once they are tested by observations, IE, confirming the facts.

        Facts are the very core of the scientific method via repeatable results, not an irrelevancy as you suggest.

      • I repeeted myself a lot, so that the message can get through. Unfortunately, you are very adept at evading knowledge.

        Facts are not irrelevant. I did not suggest they were.

        I placed facts on the lowest end on a scale of importance, because facts have no intrinsic value.

        Facts are not present in the pyramid you refer to.

        The basis of the pyramid are repeatable observations under strictly specified conditions.

        The result of an observation can be a fact, but still meaningless.

        Facts and observatios are not the same thing at all.

        Also, I never said you were confused about theories and hypotheses. I said you have previously held beliefs “, in which facts have value, and theories do not have value, because you deem theories to be unproven, while somehow facts are proven and therefore you think – completely incorrectly – that facts have value.”

        Ouch, eh? No mention of hypothesis vs theory in there. Moron.

        Also, observations NEVER EVER WILL CONFIRM a fact. The very notion is stupid.

        Observations confirm THEORIES.

      • IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE says:

        Also, observations NEVER EVER WILL CONFIRM a fact. The very notion is stupid.

        So, according to you, if you find your wife in bed with another man, it will “NEVER EVER WILL CONFIRM a fact” that she’s having an affair, eh?

      • It seems you’re starting to understand at last!
        In your scenario:

        1. Observation: I find my wife in bed with the man

        2. Fact: My wife is in bed with another man

        We can skip the math, model, hypothesis for the purposes of this explanation

        3. Theory: My wife is having an affair (Note that even if this theory is conclusively proven to be true, it would still not be a fact. It would still be a theory.)

        3a)To be correct in this, we need to confirm that the other man is not my baby boy, to take one example, because that would invalidate the theory.

        So now the theory is falsifiable.

        3b) We could do more observations, and watch my wife closely. If she is repeatedly in bed with the same other man, then she is probably having an affair with the man. Although more tests can be thought of to more conclusively prove this, such as: what is she actually doing while she’s in bed with him? Etc.

        It’s important to note here that repeated observations, which should be held under strict conditions, but also different sorts of conditions, will all yeild the exact same fact.

        Unfortunately, this fact means nothing.

        Without the theory, as outlined above, the fact is really of low importance.

        If, of course, my wife is actually observed to be in bed with multiple men, and not just the original one we initially encountered, then the theory needs more work.

        So observations are the key to good theories. Your one fact (she’s in bed with another man) means stuff all.

        3c) Now we can also predict future observations or discoveries that flows from our Theory. One example would be that if we can support the theory that my wife is having an affair, and we do so by repeated observations, then it should be the case that our marriage changes. It can change in multiple ways, such as divorce, or counselling, or a separation period, or something like that.

        If we observe things like that, then our theory’s predictive capability has been proven.

        The one fact is still totally unimportant, considering the observations, theories, predictions and falsifying aspects we’ve listed using a simple application of the scientific method.

        As you can see, your short example has led to a good case study in how science works, and should serve to show you that you are utterly ignorant of the subject matter you deem yourself capable of debating with me.

      • IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE says:

        Click Here.

      • Oh well. No-one can’t say I haven’t tried. But I guess some people are wilfully ignorant.

      • And PS:

        How about a reference from a medical textbook, published in 2008:
        http://www.medterms.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=34093

        There is no way that the abrasive qualities of moon dust is toxic.

        There has to be a chemical or poisonous effect to make it toxic.

        Or, as you’ve posted in your brilliantly well thought out comment, that there has to be a direct physical interference with biological processes due to the nature of the substance.

        Well, moon dust fails on all three counts, although there is a potential for it. I do not disagree that moon dust can be toxic.

        I disagree with the portrayal in the article above that moon dust should be called toxic, actually the whole moon, but that’s another topic, because moon dust is sharp and can cut your skin or lungs or eyes.

        That’s plainly wrong.

      • gopher652003 says:

        No, you’re incorrect. If the medical textbook you quoted from doesn’t qualify its statement about toxicity, then it is at best incomplete.

        The main “toxicity” issue with lunar dust comes from the fact that the sharp particles of dust are so small that they can imbed themselves deep, in your lungs, where your body can’t remove them. They do two things: directly interfere with oxygen absorption, and 2) cut up the surrounding tissue every time they are jostled.

        They cause severe interference with the smallscale biological functions of lungs (rather than merely blocking airflow as larger, “non-toxic” dust might), and are thus toxic. The disease that would be caused by inhalation of lunar dust is similar to Silicosis.

        Oh, and you mentioned Asbestos. Asbestos actually isn’t any more chemically toxic than Lunar dust. To quote from the wikipedia article on Asbestos: the “toxicity of fibrous materials ([Asbestos]) is not initiated by chemical effects”, but rather from “Mechanical Damage” and “Unwanted Signal channels”.

        Well, since I completely dismantled every argument you made, my work here is done.

        For reference:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silicosis
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asbestos

      • 1. Lol. Yes, the textbook is wrong, because it didn’t add false information to “qualify” things in a way that suits you.

        2. If it’s true that moon dust interferes with oxygen absorption, then lunar dust is toxic. I am happy with this.

        However, the article summary, which is what I have a problem with, does not mention this at all.

        To cut up tissue is not something that makes anything toxic.

        3. Hahaha. Let’s put the rest of that quote in here, Mr Cherry Picker:
        “Stanton and Layard hypothesized in 1977–78 that toxicity of fibrous materials is not initiated by chemical effects”.

        Oh, I see. So it’s a conclusive fact then, is it?

        Let’s not forget that a toxic substance is harmful due to either chemical or poisonous means.

        Asbestos is poisonous, and therefore toxic.

        PS: Don’t get a job as a professional dismantler of some sort. You’ll end up broke and crying in the street.

      • Douglas Muir says:

        Dude, read the original article. They talk at some length about how and
        why moon dust could be carcinogenic. That includes the possibility of
        chemical reactions leading to protracted inflammation leading to
        cancer. They specifically discuss how it has chemical properties that
        could “interfere with biological processes” — i.e., the likely presence
        of large numbers of free radicals and excess electron sites on the surface of dust grains.

        In addition to that, the stuff is ALSO rough and abrasive. And
        (according to the original article) that could actually make it more
        toxic — individual dust grains have fractally complex sharp surfaces
        that will do damage to tissues and then present more surface for the
        toxicity reactions. That would be worse, in the way that a knife coated
        in poison would be worse than a round smooth rock coated in poison.

        Doug M.

      • Well, while the arxiv paper is more clear about the potential toxicity, it does NOT state that moon dust is toxic because it can cut your skin or lungs.

        This is my gripe with the article summary:
        It does not accurately use the term “toxic” (while the linked article on arxiv does use the term correctly).

      • Zoutsteen from Holland says:

        Jupiter is a planet, so the rubble between Mars and Jupiter is called …. asteroids. Hugs to Ceres to prove me wrong on this.

    • DinSel1 says:

      Hey FUNNY TALKING FAT DUDE….

      Asbestos does not “directly make you sick”, It takes 15 to 20 years from asbestos inhalation to lung cancer.

      First you whinge on about Moon dust being “non Toxic”, then when proven wrong you say ” If it’s true that moon dust interferes with oxygen absorption, then lunar dust is toxic. I am happy with this.”

      Here is a part of the article you might have skipped O THY FAT ONE.

      “Once inside the lungs the super-fine, sharp-edged lunar dust could cause a slew of health issues, affecting the respiratory and cardiovascular system and causing anything from airway inflammation to increased risks of various cancers. Like pollutants encountered on Earth, such as asbestos and volcanic ash,”

      You seem to have too many references against Wikipedia in your comments. But it looks like “reading” generally isn’t one of your strong points.

      • 1. Asbestos directly makes you sick: http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/csem/csem.asp?csem=4&po=10

        That one is from the CDC.

        2. The explanations offered by the article summary above does not contain anything that can be used to classify moon dust as toxic. It only talks about the abrasive qualities moon dust has.

        3. Fat one?

        4. I did not miss the section you quoted. It’s about inflammation and infections resulting from cuts. This is not a toxic property either.

        5. I have no references against Wikipedia. All my references agree with Wikipedia, but not with you.

        Reading is a strong point of mine.

        Comprehension is not a strong point of yours.

      • Reply #2: Not to mention that cancer is potensial a side-effect of asbestos, and as I’ve already said, the cancer from asbestos is not the thing that makes asbestos toxic.

        Asbestosis, a disease you directly contract from asbestos exposure, is what makes asbestos toxic.

        http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001177/

        Also, your logic is semi-crazy. It doesn’t matter how long it takes for symptoms to develop. If you’re sick, you’re sick.

        You can contract the rhino virus and be sick immediately. But you won’t see symptoms for 2 days. But you’re still sick, whether or not you immediately see the symptoms.

  8. Zoutsteen from Holland says:

    Its a job … So when is the next trip to the Moon.

  9. You put the cut right after “The moon itself may be toxic to humans” in bold. You really needed The Dramatic Chipmunk

  10. The good news is they can put a magnet filter in the ventilation system to snag any big bits in the air/airlock.

  11. squidgeny says:

    I would think that if Martian dust was sharp like Lunar dust, it would have damaged Mars landers/rovers in a way that we would by now have detected (eg. scratched lenses, solar panels etc).

    • Lorin Ionita says:

      Yup, that’s what I was thinking. Though I would think not having an atmosphere, the solar wind would take care of the erosion part for you. Or it does, just not enough?

  12. squidgeny says:

    I look forward to the Daily Mail article.

    Now the MOON causes cancer, says so-called “scientists” (and guess who’s paying for them)

  13. Stan Taylor says:

    So is Gray Lung going to be an issue for lunar prospectors?

  14. lcrowell says:

    Lunar regolith is physically and chemically different from sand, soil and dust on Earth. As the article indicates there has been physical erosion to reduce sharp points and concoidal fracture edges. Further, on Earth oxidation from the atmosphere changes the chemical properties of the surface of particulates.

    The biological response to physical damage from particulates can be complicated. Asbestos fibers set up a range of immune and cell-tissue responses. Any irritation to tissue induces a primary immune response which causes further irritation. This sends a cascade of signals that cause the secondary immune response. It also changes cell cycles in tissues. In the case of lung tissue this can induce an auto-immune disorder that destroys tissue, which is emphysema. Asbestos ends up inducing forms of cancer.

    It can also be argued that biological organisms, such as us, evolved to manage assaults from the geochemistry of Earth. We did not evolve to manage the geochemistry of other planetary bodies. As a result any sort of assault could have long term effects. I doubt the Apollo astronauts suffered that much, for the exposure was comparatively transient. However, astronauts who stay at a lunar base or colony might find there are unexpected consequences from this.
    LC

  15. Rick Holcomb says:

    The solution doesn’t seem all that difficult. Every habitat has a ‘mud porch’ where your space suit gets a shower before you enter. Water runoff filtered and reused, of course.
    That combined with designs where the spacesuit rarely comes in the habitat at all; instead is attached outside and entered from a back plate should, at least, considerably reduce the problem.

    • squidgeny says:

      I think a gas duster would be the better option here. Water has two problems – it’s too viscous to get into the tiny grooves where dust could be found, and those filters would probably have to be replaced regularly. Also to recapture the water, you’d have to pressurize the mudporch, which would make it an expensive piece of equipment.

      So instead I propose a hose which expels a tiny jet of air, which could be used to loosen up dust off a surface. The mudporch would be nothing more than a grated metal platform, through which any loosened dust would fall to the surface below (and it would fall through the vacuum like a rock, not linger in the air like dust on Earth). Perhaps the platform could even be vigorously vibrated to further loosen any dust that sticks to it or to the moonwalker’s boots.

      This would mean the air would be lost to space though, so it’s not without its disadvantages. There would have to be a good supply of air.

      What do people think?

      • Rick Holcomb says:

        Sloppy writing on my part. I assumed people would understand that the mud porch would be inside a pressurised airlock. I’m not sure a gas jet would be better than water so let’s do both. You come in the airlock, pressurise, blast the nooks and cranies with an air jet, then hose everything down.
        Good point about the water recirculation filters. I don’t think you’d want to carry enough to replace them every time they started getting clogged. There’s got to be a way to clean them, though. Maybe take ’em outside, let ’em freeze in the shadow of a rock and them bang them on the rock.

      • Future space suits may remain outside and seldom enter a crewed habitat. With the ‘backpack’ functioning as a docking port and airlock, an astronaut may simply open a door on the wall and enter their suit. That should reduce contamination from outside. It will also be important for Manned Mars missions to reduce human contamination. Just let the suits stand outside and bathe in UV rays for most of the mission.

    • zkank says:

      A good degaussing and an electro-static discharge station would help, too.

    • DinSel1 says:

      Lets just hope the “recycled” water is only used for cleaning. Would not want to drink recycled water if it has come in contact with dust that has received high radioactive doses over millions of years.

      • zkank says:

        Lunar meteorites have no more radioactivity than terrestrial rocks.

        Your concern is unwarranted!

      • DinSel1 says:

        Quote of the article above

        “lunar dust particles are small enough to penetrate deep within lung tissues, and may be made even more dangerous by their long-term exposure to proton and UV radiation.”

        Moon receives more harmful UV radiation then Earth does.

      • zkank says:

        “May” is the operative word here.
        I’m suspecting the author of that sentence doesn’t know what he/she is talking about, and made a very unscientific, silly guess.

        Those are sterility suits scientists use studying Apollo rocks, not hazmat suits.
        The lunar meteorites I’m in possession of didn’t come with a warning to “store in lead box”.

    • Nasa has been developing a space suit that can be accessed through an airlock. That way, the suit can remain outside without contaminating the habitat. To enter, just open the door, jump inside your suit, close, detach, and walk.

  16. I’m kind of fascinated by line “the research is a step in the right direction as it looks to
    ensure a safe environment for future explorers on the Moon”

    I didn’t realize we’d reached the point that strapping people inside an upholstered bean can on top of a 3 million pound thrust rocket and sending them to live and work in a near vacuum was considered “safe”. 🙂

    The dust is just one problem, but we can engineer around that if necessary. It does raise the question of whether the moon is worth returning to though. As a stepping stone for manned exploration to Mars or other planets, an orbital staging post seems likely to be more achievable.

    • Torbjörn Larsson says:

      Two immediate problems:
      – We want to go to the Moon anyway, for the science reasons Jason mentioned in his article. It is the only deposit, bar Mars, that have a record of Earth early history, including the period when life and plate tectonics got started. It is _so_ worth it!

      – Even if we would only want to go to NEOs or Mars, we will have the same problem in spades. The Moon is a more convenient place to develop and test mitigation technologies if necessary.

      • You’re right Torbjörn. I didn’t really mean that the moon should be avoided completely, more that its usefulness looking ahead may be limited. It’s definitely the easiest place to test mitigation technology.

        NASA certainly tries to achieve high levels of safety and there’s nothing wrong with that. I just think that it’s a bit much to think of traveling to the moon (or anywhere else off the earth’s surface) as “safe” at our current and foreseeable level of technology. Some risk has to be accepted.

      • Torbjörn Larsson says:

        Agreed.

  17. Torbjörn Larsson says:

    This seems to be a generic problem outside of Earth, which general physical and chemical dust properties we have evolved to handle.

    Dust from asteroids over regolith moons to Mars is largely impact created and radiation processed, and share the properties of being physically and chemically aggressive. Sharp, clingy and toxic. The martian perchlorates that are an excellent nutrient source for bacteria at environmental temperatures is also carcinogenic for animals at room temperatures.

    We have interesting exceptions on Earth that are informative. Asbestos fibers are cancerogenous for the exact same reason these dusts can be whatever their chemical makeup. “toxicity of fibrous materials is not initiated by chemical effects“. Mechanical damage induces a cellular response, which ends up triggering a cancer. Simply tangling with equal sized chromosomes is one hypothesis.

    Similarly a slew of nanomaterial shows physical toxicity, often by being fibrous too as nanotubes is a recurrent form. Hence we can expect a lot more, and coherent, research here.

    Mitigations will include active dust transport by electrodynamical means already proposed for landers and habitats, atmosphere and water handling, and monitoring crew health. I actually stumbled on an interesting technology in this context.
    Turns out that simply using ultrasonics snaps carbon nanotubes down in size, despite such nanotubes being ~ 100 times stronger than steel at that size.

    So, a problem, but a survivable problem.

    Obviously though, if we want to make long term habitats on these bodies we need to work this problem more. Since these dust particles interact so much with cells, I would think some sort of inorganic or organic cellular technology would be the ultimate dust buster. Bacteria that crawl surfaces, lured by their biofilm promoter chemicals to dump their dying carcasses in a sump? I’m sure there will be ideas and even hopeful there will be long term solutions.

  18. Aqua4U says:

    The comments below ignore one fact completely. For our eventual return to the Moon, we will have to commit ourselves to some sort of dust mitigation. As astronauts enter a habitat or transport their suits will need to be cleaned. Static charges must be dealt with by proper grounding or exposure to a mild alpha particle bombardment(?). Once within a pressurized environment, further cleaning using ultrasonics and air flow(s) might be the ‘ticket’?

    • Torbjörn Larsson says:

      I think you missed several comments on cleaning.

      Mostly though, the new suit technology means the suits are mounted external to the habitats and ingress is direct through a suit lock on the back. (Russian style.) They will not need external cleaning.

      I don’t think we should plan for NASA going back to old style suits, when the plans for the new style were specifically developed to mitigate the dust problem.

      • squidgeny says:

        Rick Holcomb mentioned that above, and it’s a superb idea. But it wouldn’t avoid the dust problem completely, would it? Surely there would be some dust on the backplate that could still sneak its way it.

        Certainly makes the cleaning issue easier though.

      • Aqua4U says:

        Any lunar space suit will need periodic maintenance. Externally mounted excursion suits attached to a rover OR excursion suites attached to a habitat will still need to be brought inside for inspection and/or repair.

      • Torbjörn Larsson says:

        Only because repair is easier inside if possible, a property that they share with other equipment. This belongs to R&M problems, not egress problems.

    • Aqua4U says:

      Am prettay sure this subject has been covered before at UT? Back then I mentioned that the cure might be to include an ultra thin wire webbing layer next to the outer layer(s) of the spacesuit. Run electric current thru the webbing or via a ground plane mounted on the habitat porch? Presto! No more static cling! Shake the rest off in a low pressure ante chamber with ultra sound while standing in a stream of air.

  19. Sarv-NASA Incorporated says:

    Toxic ?…… Does anyone know, why the Lunar mission was called “APOLLO MISSION”……. and what happened to the piece of scalp lost to the dark witches (CROWS) ?……

    • squidgeny says:

      Wikipedia has it that then NASA manager Abe Silverstein

      thought that the image of “Apollo riding his chariot across the Sun was appropriate to the grand scale of the proposed program.”

  20. cade22 says:

    Geezzz Corrie…. I’m just a casual reader and your abrasive temperment is obvious to me. These folks just want to discuss ideas with friendly debate about what is or isn’t viable. Why not get with the program – you appear have something to offer in these discussions, but no sense of respect or dipolmacy.

  21. Cave Johnson could have told you moon rocks are pure poison 50 years ago.

  22. LSAGuy says:

    We can detox radioactive and chemical pollutants, how hard would it be prepare a detox protocol for a lunar habitat. The simplest system would be a simple vacuum cleaner consisting of nothing more than a hose with a valve connected to the near perfect vacuum outside the habitat. That would probably get 95% of loose dust. A wash station could be used to get 95% of the remaining. This could be done while the astronaut is still in the suit. A final cleaning using ultrasound after the suit is off could be done while the suit goes through a thorough inspection and any necessary repairs are done. Yes, it would be tedious, and yes, the final solution to the problem are probably more complicated than what I’ve laid out with a few moments thought, but the point is that this is not a show stopper.

  23. justletmepostdammit says:

    Yeah man, everything is toxic in excessive amount so only take a spoonful of moon at a time.

  24. justletmepostdammit says:

    why are human born so weak.

  25. Mark Iven says:

    One possible way to avoid the dust problem is to setup shop where there is little or no dust. Not certain if these regions exist or not, but a potential target might be found within select craters, rilles or lava tubes.

  26. ITSRUF says:

    True to form, a few years from now, a report will state that a little bit of moon dust everyday will help keep one healthy.

  27. Wow! This is really scary. I’ve read a lot of SF books about people living on the Moon, no one ever seems to have considered toxic dust as a possibility. Reality is truly more interesting than anything we can imagine.

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