HOUSTON (May 13, 2008) Lunar dust could be more than a housekeeping issue for astronauts who visit the moon. Their good health may depend on the amount of exposure they have to the tiny particles.
To prepare for a return to the moon, researchers with the National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) are evaluating how dust deposits in the lungs in reduced gravity in order to assess the health risk of long-term exposure to the particles. The findings will influence the design of lunar bases and could also provide benefits for healthcare on Earth, such as improved delivery of aerosol medications to the lungs.
NSBRI Human Factors and Performance Team researcher Dr. Kim Prisk said there are major questions that need to be answered. In the big picture, the questions are: How much goes into the lung? Where does it go? How long does it stay? And how nasty is the stuff? said Prisk, who is an adjunct professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Diego.
During the Apollo lunar missions in the late 1960s and 1970s, the clingy particles were easily transported via spacesuits into the lunar lander following moonwalks. The amount of dust inside the vehicle was so great some astronauts reported they could smell it.
Even though there were no known illnesses due to exposure, lunar dust is a concern because it has properties comparable to that of fresh-fractured quartz, a highly toxic substance. However, the Apollo flights lasted only a few days. During the proposed return to the moon, astronauts will be exposed to lunar dust for longer periods of time, including missions that could last months.
Due to the moons reduced gravity and the size of its dust particles, the respiratory systems process to remove unwanted matter may not work as efficiently as it does on Earth. In the moons fractional gravity, particles remain suspended in the airways rather than settling out, increasing the chances of
|Contact: Brad Thomas|
National Space Biomedical Research Institute