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Lunar dust: The Hazard and Astronaut Exposure Risks

ABSTRACT

This paper reviews the characterisation of lunar dust or regolith, the toxicity of the dust and associated health effects, the techniques for assessing the health risks from dust exposure and describes the measures used or being developed to mitigate exposure. Lunar dust is formed from micrometeorite impacts onto the Moon’s surface. The hypervelocity impacts result in communition and the formation of sharp and clingy agglutinates. The dust particles vary in size with the smallest being less than 10 μm. If the chemical reactive particles are deposited in the lungs, they may cause respiratory disease. During lunar exploration, the astronaut’s spacesuits will become contaminated with lunar dust. The dust will be released into the atmosphere when the suits are removed. The exposure risks to health will need to be assessed by relating to a permissible exposure limit. During the Apollo missions, the astronauts were exposed to lunar dust. Acute health effects from dust inhalation exposure included sore throat, sneezing and coughing. Long-term exposure to the dust may cause a more serious respiratory disease similar to silicosis. On future missions the methods used to mitigate exposure will include providing high air recirculation rates in the airlock, the use of a “Double Shell Spacesuit” so that contaminated spacesuits are removed before entering the airlock, the use of dust shields to prevent dust accumulating on surfaces, the use of high gradient magnetic separation to remove surface dust and the use of solar flux to sinter and melt the regolith around the spacecraft.