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Making Moondust II

June 23, 2011

Here on Earth, the consequence of tracking dirt into the house is usually a scowl from the one who has to clean it up. But on the Moon, tracking in dust could be deadly. So scientists are studying moondust to get a better handle on the possible problems, and to help engineers design machines that can survive prolonged exposure to the fine, abrasive material.

KUHLMAN: It gets everywhere, so you need to know how it works with seals, how it mucks up lubricants or whatever. Anything that's exposed to the dust is going to react with it one way or another. You really should know at least, with the mission-critical parts, how they're going to react, especially in the hard vacuum of the Moon.

Kim Kuhlman is a researcher with the Planetary Science Institute. She's studied "fake" moondust that was created to help prepare for future lunar missions. She notes that Apollo astronauts had problems with moondust -- and people who stay for weeks or months could face even worse ones.

KUHLMAN: Some of the astronauts got hay fever -- what they called hay fever -- from the dust that they brought in on their spacesuits. Jack Schmidt said that he smelled gunpowder. That means there's a chemical reaction going on between the dust and his body. There's some indication that the really fine stuff can go right through the blood vessel wall. It can get into the blood.

Studying the artificial moondust can help scientists figure out the problems with the real stuff -- and design ways to keep machines and people safe as they explore the Moon.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2011


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