The mankind wants not only to return to the Moon, but also in the long term to establish a colony there. Such serious plans require serious preparation, especially given the extremely unfriendly local environment. In an effort to find ways to protect against the main threat to the life and health of future lunar colonizers, the European Space Agency is conducting a large study of lunar dust, trying to determine the level of its danger for both people and technology that will be used there
Long before Nil Armstrong stepped on the bottom of the Sea of Tranquility, scientists and engineers were actively studying the issue of the danger of lunar dust. The fact that lunar dust is a real insurmountable barrier to the exploration of our satellite became clear even within the first test launches of the Saturn-5 missile satellite.
The main problem, as it turned out, was that no one had any idea at that time of what the surface of the moon was like. Maybe it was as solid as frozen lava, or maybe its so-called seas and craters could be filled up to the top with tiny particles of dust, hitting into which the spacecraft would simply drown, like a cargo thrown in the sea. But the answer to this question, discovered by the astronauts of the Apollo program, was unexpected and equally disturbing. Instead of the supposed seas from liquid solid particles, it was established that for billions of years of falling micrometeorites the lunar surface was covered with a thin layer of silicate dust, which has a number of unpleasant qualities.
First, this dust was as dry as possible. The constant bombardment by solar and cosmic radiation gave its particles a static charge. In the end, this led to the fact that the dust began to stick to the astronaut spacesuits. And it was almost impossible to get rid of it. As a result, both the interior of the lunar lander module and the orbital command module were contaminated by it.
Worst of all, the dryness and radiation made this dust chemically active. Abrasive particles settled on spacesuits, containers for soil samples, electronics and other equipment. As for the astronauts themselves, all 12 people who visited the moon picked up the so-called “lunar cold”. After flights, all had symptoms such as a runny nose and stuffy nose. And these symptoms were observed a few days after returning to Earth.
An international group of more than a dozen scientists is going to consider the likely long-term effects of lunar dust on the human body. Researchers already have suspicions that dust can lead to such a serious disease as cancer, but the more accurate effects of lunar dust remain largely unknown.
Silicate dust is a great danger on the Earth. It causes silicosis. This is a professional disease of miners. It also occurs in people who live in areas with frequent dust storms, as well as in areas with volcanic activity. Nevertheless, the lunar dust differs from the terrestrial one. The active earth environment constantly wears silicate particles, grinding them and making them more round. The particles of the lunar dust in turn have sharp, jagged edges making it so sticky that it settled even on the special protective boots worn by the astronauts of the subsequent Apollo missions. What will happen to the lungs in this case – even scary to imagine.
Another problem is that, since the gravity is 6 times lower on the Moon, any nanoparticles that get on board the spacecraft or inside the lunar station can remain unnoticed in the air for months, continuing to poison people’s lungs.
According to ESA, one of the main problems in the study of lunar dust is that we do not have any of its real samples. To investigate it it is necessary on the simulation models created on the basis of materials from volcanic regions. Finding the right material with similar to lunar dust is not so difficult. It is difficult to find a material with the same abrasive and other features.