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Measuring Moon Dust to Fight Air Pollution

Dust to Fight Air Pollution Moon dust isn’t like the stuff that collects on a bookshelf or on tables – it’s ubiquitous and abrasive, and it clings to everything. It’s so bad that it even broke the vacuum NASA designed to clean the Moon dust off Apollo spacesuits. With NASA’s return to the Moon and its orbit, it will need to manage the dust, which is dangerous for people too. The first step is knowing how much is around at any given time. Efforts to do just that are already paying off on Earth, in the fight against air pollution. Astronaut working at lunar outpost. While astronaut Gene Cernan was on the lunar surface during the Apollo 17 mission, his spacesuit collected loads of lunar dust. Credits: NASA Apollo missions struggled to deal with damage done by lunar dust. It clogged the camera equipment and scratched helmet visors so badly that astronauts had difficulty seeing. During the Apollo 17 mission, astronaut Harrison Schmitt described his reaction to breathing in the dust as “lunar hay fever,” experiencing sneezing, watery eyes, and a sore throat. The symptoms went away, but concern for human health is a driving force behind NASA’s extensive research into all forms of lunar soil, called regolith. Sensitive tissues such as the lungs and corneas can be damaged by lunar dust trapped inside a habitat. While air filtration can remove a great deal of the tiny particles, an air-quality sensor is necessary to ensure the controls are effective. This was one focus of NASA’s Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) program. Through NextSTEP, the agency issued a series of documents detailing specific needs for a future lunar habitation and inviting private industry to help overcome obstacles to future lunar missions. One of these needs was for air revitalization and monitoring, including a way to measure lunar dust in surface and orbiting habitats. Lunar Outpost Inc. was founded in Denver in 2017 with the goal of developing technologies for lunar exploration and then adapting them for use on Earth. Based on the specifications laid out in NextSTEP documents, the company developed an air-quality sensor it called the Space Canary. Lunar Outpost offered the sensor to Lockheed Martin Space, which was one of several companies to successfully bid on a NextSTEP public-private partnership to build lunar orbit habitat prototypes for testing. Lockheed agreed, bringing Lunar Outpost on as a contributor to tweak the Space Canary to NASA’s needs. Lunar Outpost interior. Ahead of future lunar missions, NASA wanted a sensor to warn inhabitants if the level of dust gets dangerous. Lunar Outpost Inc. developed the Space Canary, an air-quality sensor, shown here (cannister-shaped device above the open door on the right) in a lunar habitat prototype designed by Lockheed Martin. Credits: Lockheed Martin Corporation

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