How to clean moon dust from your boots

In 2025, NASA plans to land a human crew on the Moon for the first time since 1972. But before those brave astronauts arrive, scientists here on Earth are trying to figure out how to solve a major problem revealed during the great Apollo of the organization years.

It’s just how to deal with pesky moon dust.

You know how when you open a box full of packing peanuts, little styrofoam drops start flying everywhere? And the more you try to capture them… the more rebellious they become, traveling farther and getting stuck in crevices in your house you didn’t even know existed?

Yes, moon dust is worse.

“Moon dust is electrostatically charged, abrasive, and seeps in, making it a very difficult substance to deal with,” said Ian Wells of the University of Washington’s School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering. “You end up with a thin layer of dust at least covering everything.”

For that reason, Wells and his colleagues have devised a solution that they say can address the problem. It’s a liquid nitrogen spray that managed to remove more than 98% of the simulated moon dust in the team’s simulated space vacuum without damaging the suspended spacesuits. A full outline of the Moon-friendly Endust can be found in a paper published Tuesday in the journal Acta Astronautica.

This is huge, because the layer of lunar dust Wells is referring to is a really (really) bad thing for astronauts trying to keep their engines, electronics, and spacecraft clean. “It raised a lot of problems that affected the missions as well as the astronauts once they got home,” Wells said.

Brown moon dust appears to be billowing upward and separating its particles as a stream of liquid comes into contact with it.

An image of the team’s liquid nitrogen spray coming into contact with simulated moon dust.

University of Washington

According to a press release for the study, during the Apollo moon landings in the early 1970s, some astronaut suits were damaged by persistent moon dust, destroying the seals that keep oxygen in and the toxic space environment out. Others even suffered from a newly created disease, lunar hay fever, after being exposed to moon dust for a short time.

Scientists believe that breathing moon dust for long periods of time could cause lung damage similar to that of black lung disease – a disease that mainly affects coal workers who breathe in coal dust while working and that hinders their ability to inhale , creating tightness in the chest and coughing up black sputum.

Liquid nitrogen is a fairly widely used substance in science. It’s basically nitrogen – a rather harmless gas – that’s been cooled so much that it becomes a liquid. Doctors sometimes use it in medicine to remove precancerous cells, engineers use it as a computer coolant, and even chefs may use liquid nitrogen for their whimsical culinary creations (although some experts argue that the latter can a bit dangerous).

However, liquid nitrogen is apparently available and relatively safe when used in a controlled environment, and thus a solid choice for lunar dusting.

As a bonus, Wells explained, spacesuits treated with the substance don’t even require manual brushing, wiping or dusting after washing—further protecting them from any kind of abrasion. The spray simply removes the dust in real time, causing the particles to form pellets and float away. Homosexual.

Three images of Barbies with different stages of cleanliness are shown.

The team shows what a simulated mini-spacesuit looks like completely covered in moon dust (left) and fully cleaned after field treatment with the new vacuum spray (right). In the middle is an example of the spacesuit after being covered in dust and then exposed to vacuum. And yes, these are Barbies.

University of Washington

Wells also says that this spray performed better than any other technique previously investigated. One such alternative is NASA’s idea to use electron beams and ultraviolet light to remove dust. The agency called it a “lunar duster” and said the key was that it would not use air to deal with lunar particles.

Next, the team plans to test their spray under the right conditions to simulate lunar gravity, but hopefully we’ll have some lunar Windex before we send the next generation of humans to none other than the moon.

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