Apollo, the Lunar Dust and NASA’s Dirty Problem

Sometimes the smallest things can be one of the biggest headaches. During the Apollo missions of 1969 to 72, the tiny particles of lunar dust turned out to be a major issue.

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Described as being as fine as talc but as rough as sandpaper, it also has properties that make it dangerous for both men and machines and has been cited as a bigger problem for future astronauts than radiation by some scientists.
The lunar surface is covered in a thin layer of dust which has been created by the bombardment of meteorites and micrometeorites over millions of years. These smash into the moon’s surface at speeds up to 12 miles or 20km per second, heating and pulverising rocks and dirt, which contain silica and metals such as iron. Some of the dust is melted in the extreme heat of the impacts which creates tiny glass beads as the silica melts which then flash freezes and falls back to the surface.
This continual smashing, shatters the silica and other minerals to produces finer and finer grains of dust but because there is no weathering on the moon like there is on earth, the edges of these tiny shards which are not only very hard, they remain very sharp and jagged which makes it incredibly abrasive and potentially damaging to anything it sticks to
NASA had an idea about the dust before the manned moon missions from the previous surveyor landers but it quickly became apparent that once men were there the dust was far more of a problem than was first thought.
In fact before the missions started some scientists thought that because the dust had not been on contact with oxygen, that it may spontaneously combust if exposed to air. Before the departure of Apollo 11 from the moon, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong had to carry out a rather ad-hoc experiment to see if the dust was safe to bring back in the lunar lander in an air environment.
They got a grab sample of dust and went back to the lander, they placed some on the engine cover of the ascent module, then they closed the hatch and re-pressurized the cabin, whilst looking out to see if the dust started to smoke, luckily it didn’t and they got on with the departure. Aldrin said that it if had, they would have stopped the pressurisation, opened the hatch and thrown it out.
We’ve seen the astronauts bouncing around the moon’s surface and getting covered in lunar dust. They found that the dust sticks to everything it comes into contact with from the sun visors on the helmets, to gauges and dials, tools and more importantly things like seals on the spacesuits and containers for bringing back rock samples.
The dust is electrically charged by the bombardment of charged particles from the sun and this is what makes it stick to anything it lands on.
During Apollo 17, crewmembers Harrison “Jack” Schmitt and Gene Cernan had reported that the dust was making it difficult for them to move their arms around during the moonwalks because it had got into the joints of their space suits. …………

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