A still from Apollo 18 (the movie)

With a bunch of interest being drummed up in favor of returning to the moon, the question isn’t if humans will ever go back, it’s when. Of course, any manned mission to the moon has many risks associated with it. These risks only increase when we talk about working and living long-term on the moon’s surface. Astronauts and other inhabitants will have to contend with solar flares,  microgravity, and endure the dangers of working in an airless environment. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that the lunar surface itself might be toxic to humans.

An Apollo 17 image (Click to see a larger version)

It is certainly very dangerous, to say the least. The problem stems for the fact that the lunar surface hasn’t undergone the same kind of erosion process as Earth’s soil. This means that pretty much everything on the lunar surface is razor sharp, from fine particles to large rocks. When these particulate shards of lunar material get into the habitat zones, they turn into a real problem. When inhaled,  they can wreak havoc in your lungs; if they get into your eyes, they can scratch your cornea causing a potential emergency. Not to mention the mayhem that little, super-sharp particles can cause in spacesuit joints, machinery, and protective clothing & structures.

In addition, two natural forces make these already dangerous particles even more so, microgravity and static cling. Static cling on the moon is also incredibly strong since the lunar surface is constantly bombarded by UV rays and solar winds. Microgravity, on the other hand, makes it easier to stir up the particles as well as allow them to linger in the atmosphere of a lunar habitat for a longer period of time.

James Irwin salutes the US flag on August 1, 1971

The Apollo astronauts had some serious issues with the biological and mechanical adverse affects of the lunar surface. Fortunately, there may be a solution to the madness  (in fact, some have postulated that the material could actually be used to derive oxygen, fuel, and water). Most of the particulate matter on the moon contains a little iron, which means it is magnetic. Magnetic filters could be placed throughout a spacecraft or outpost to keep the air clean. Likewise, these magnets could also be used to clean off astronauts as they return to the habitat after a long, hard day on the lunar surface.

Luckily, the next time humans land on the moon, we’ll be able to plan, design, and prepare in a smarter way using our past experiences.

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