A new study has determined that moon dust is extremely dangerous and toxic to humans at the cellular level. The study was published in the April issue of the journal GeoHealth and it’s pretty fascinating stuff.
Researchers had to recreate moon dust for their experiment, as the stuff isn’t easily accessible on Earth. According to space.com, they used “volcanic ash from Arizona, dust skimmed from a Colorado lava flow and a glassy, lab-made powder designed by the U.S. Geological Survey for use in lunar soil studies like these.” They mixed their concoction directly with human lung cells and mouse brain cells in three different levels of graininess.
After 24 hours, they found that all three caused cell death. The finest grain was the most lethal, and the size that could most easily be inhaled and absorbed by human lungs. It killed up to 90% of the cells it came into contact with, and “cells that weren’t decimated outright showed signs of DNA damage that could lead to cancer or neurodegenerative diseases if not repaired.” Yikes.
This is bad for future moon exploration for a number of reasons. While astronauts are protected from the stuff while space-walking and sealed in their suits, they can track a whole lot of dust into atmosphere-filled modules where they could easily breathe it in. There are a couple of problems with tracking moon dust into your living environment in space. First, it floats. That’s not cool. And, second, it’s sharp. There’s no erosion on the moon, so the dust does extra damage when it hits your organs.
NASA is apparently experimenting with covering “sensitive surfaces with an Electrodynamic Dust Shield — essentially, electrically charged panels that shoot currents through thin wires to zap dust away.” Some of those panels are being used right now on the International Space Station, and seem to be working well in that environment.
Moon dust is nasty. It makes me feel a little better about being so very terrestrial.