Moon dust may make breathing for astronauts difficult

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Melbourne, July 15 : Researchers from the United States have warned that inhaling fine-grained dust that covers the moon might make it difficult for the astronauts to breathe on its surface.

In 1972, when Apollo 17 landed on the surface of the moon the astronauts experienced irritation and discomfort from exposure to dust, with symptoms ranging from sneezing, watery eyes and a peculiar smell resembling gunpowder.

"One flight surgeon after a mission was doing microbiological sampling of the (space) suits, and when they opened the containers to check the suits, he had an allergic reaction - irritation, sneezing, irritated mucus membranes in the eyes and nose. Nothing was serious, but it certainly is concerning," ABC quoted NASA flight surgeon Jeff Jones, as saying.

This prompted the researchers to study the possible hazards that the astronauts can face while inhaling the dust. This fine-grained dust that covers the moon is sharp-edged, chemically active and ubiquitous.

"The dust is electrostatic - it just sticks to everything," said University of California San Diego Associate Professor Chantal Darquenne, who is working under a NASA grant to study how moon dust lodges in the lungs.

NASA, which plans to land astronauts on the moon by 2020, is working on developing health standards for dust exposure to reduce the health hazards that the astronauts might face once they reach the surface/

For analysing how inhaled particles are distributed in the lungs in reduced gravity, NASA plans to fly rats aboard later this month that can imitate weightlessness by making steep, parabolic dives through the atmosphere.

The rats will be exposed to particle-laced air at a particular time during drops when conditions are most like the moon's gravity

After the flight, the animals will be euthanised and studied to assess how deeply the particles settled in the lungs.

Darquenne said that earlier studies on humans using non-toxic particles show that in microgravity the particles can reach deeper, more sensitive regions of the lung.

"Given the fact that the lunar dust seems to be highly toxic, there is a concern that it may be harmful for the people who would be on the moon," she said.

"We're doing research to understand the risks. It's clearly going to be more hazardous than dust on earth," Jones added.

ANI

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