The dangers of moon dust on suits and equipment could be solved by spraying them with liquid nitrogen.
- Regolith lunar dust is a real threat to future lunar missions as it can damage suits and equipment – as well as being toxic to astronauts
- Researchers show in a scientific paper that it is possible to blow this regolith with liquid nitrogen without damaging anything
- For this, they carried out their demonstration on a Barbie doll…
You probably know this if you were interested in the Apollo missions: lunar dust was a real plague for American astronauts. Not only was it sticking to their suits and equipment, but it was damaging the seals, threatening the reliability of the equipment.
However, this very abrasive dust, made up of microscopic particles as sharp as razor blades, has also proved to be toxic to human health. Once back in the lander, the astronauts came into direct contact with the dust – which poses significant health risks, much for the same reasons as asbestos.
How cleaning moon dust could be possible thanks to liquid nitrogen jets
This material can indeed become embedded in the lungs without the body being able to reject it. The risk is then to develop allergies or even incurable fatal diseases such as silicosis. During the last Apollo missions, American astronauts used brushes to clean their suits and equipment.
A process with relative efficiency which also has a major drawback: by removing the regolith dust in this way, the astronauts damage their suits each time. The problem, therefore, had to find a solution under the penalty of compromising the permanent presence of man on the star.
According to a new study available on ScienceDirect, projecting pressurized liquid nitrogen through a nozzle removes this dust much more effectively, with the least possible damage to contaminated materials. As a demonstration, they dressed Barbies with the same materials as the spacesuits that will be used on the Moon.
Then they covered the Barbies with volcanic ash with similar properties. From there they doused the dolls with liquid nitrogen, demonstrating that the ash was removed quite easily with very little or no damage to whatever it had stuck to. In fact, they were able to carry out 75 cleanings before noticing the slightest degradation. Further experiments are needed to confirm the effectiveness of the method in a wide range of scenarios.
But their research has already been rewarded by NASA, which could therefore use this process during the first manned Artemis missions which are due to take off by 2025 – unless better methods are found by then. In any case, the last obstacles to the colonization of the moon seem well on the way to all being resolved.