Obscure Dangers of Spaceflight: Moon Dust

It’s inevitable. At some point in the future, mankind will finally leave the cradle of Earth to explore the vastness of space. When that time comes, however, it probably won’t be much like it is portrayed through the science fiction of today. Instead, the men and women who will be traveling through the great void in the future will not have to worry about laser weapons and asteroids, but they will have to worry about many other, almost mundane, dangers involved in traveling through space. For each one of the red shirts that die due to some awesome explosion or laser based weapon, hundreds more will die from one of these six causes.

Moon Dust

We all know how the Space Race concluded. American men walked on the moon, while budget cuts and rising inflation, coupled with a collapsing economy, caused the Soviet Russians to shelve their program. Word has it, though, that this project is not considered complete. In fact, Vladimir Putin still plans to reach the moon and beyond by establishing a permanent base on the moon as well as a harvesting program where the country could harvest helium from our closest neighbor in space.

It’s an ambitious plan, especially since his goal is to have these things in place by 2030. It is also an insanely difficult and dangerous plan, though not for the reasons that you might have thought. We know the Russians never made it to the moon with a manned lander, which means that they have no idea what is really on the moon, and what is really on the moon is moondust, and lots of it!

Take a look at the footprint that was left behind by Apollo 11’s Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin. While it might look like a muddy footprint, what you really are looking at is dust with the consistency of flour.

Now, if you would imagine for a moment that this flour is not only everywhere on the moons surface, which is what you are exploring, but it sticks to everything it comes into contact with and is so fine that it finds a way to seep into your spacesuit. At the same time, it is so rough that it scratches your skin just like if you were washing with a sandpaper washcloth. Imagine also that instead of being firmly kept in a bowl to be mixed with other ingredients, it floats up around you almost freely in the one sixth gravity of the moon.

While we’re at it, lets also imagine that it can clog up your lungs and kill you. Sound like a fun experiment? Well, when the Apollo astronauts attempted it forty years ago, it wasn’t so fun.

Apollo 17

Jack Schmitt and Gene Cernan were the final men to walk on the moon, and they were so busy being such that they forgot one very important step in preparation for leaving the moon; wiping their feet before they got into their space ship. Sounds like a simple fix, right? Grab a duster and broom and simply sweet the dust out of the ship, right?

Wrong. During their mission itself, the dust was so troublesome that it actually clogged the joints in their space suits so badly that they couldn’t move. Beyond this, it was so corrosive that it actually wore away three layers of boot material, a material very similar to Kevlar. Now, because they forgot to wipe their feet on the way in, the dust permeated the space ship and the three astronauts were stuck with it all the way back to Earth.

At the same time, these three astronauts got to experience something that no other had. First, they found out that the dust didn’t go airborne right away. It took some time to get there, but when it did, they couldn’t help but to breathe the stuff, which reportedly smelled like gunpowder. Schmitt later complained of severe congestion and hay fever-like symptoms, which were later tied to the inhalation of the moon dust. Thankfully, there wasn’t enough dust in the ship to cause catastrophic problems, and the astronauts felt fine a couple days later.

Future Moon Landings

What we have learned since the days of the moon landings doesn’t exactly bode well for those who wish to explore the moon in the future. In the tests that followed the Apollo program, scientists were surprised to find out that moon dust had many qualities that were similar to silica and freshly fractured quartz rock, both of which are lethal to humans when inhaled.

And that is just MOON dust. The red dust that makes up the iconic surface of our neighboring planet of Mars is so dangerous that NASA has already placed it as the number one risk involved in manned expeditions to the planet. Not only is it corrosive and gritty, but the stuff doesn’t just sit around like dust on the moon does. No, because Mars has some form of atmosphere and wind, this dust is whipped up into dust devils and sandstorms that can sandblast the skin right off of you.

So future space travelers are going to face plenty of dangers, including those that may not seem so dangerous. Deadly dust? It just goes to show that things are not always as harmless as they might appear.

About Kalianna Nicholotti

Fleet Captain Kalianna Nicholotti has been a member of the Starbase 118 Fleet now for over five years and she still loves it just as much as she did when she joined. The joys of writing for a character that's truly come to life, coupled with the friends she's met throughout the Fleet, has made 118 a part of her daily life.
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