Human World

Could lunar dust be toxic to astronauts?

As NASA prepares to return to the moon by the year 2020, Kim Prisk of the National Space Biomedical Research Institute is studying a space hazard – lunar dust.

Kim Prisk: From what we know about lunar dust, it’s fairly reactive and it has properties that are quite similar to fresh fractured quartz here on Earth. And fresh fractured quartz is known to be very toxic .

Even airtight space gear can’t protect astronauts.

Kim Prisk: It sticks because of electrostatic attraction to the space suits, and basically, they track it into the modules.

The moon’s low gravity might cause dust to penetrate deeply into an astronaut’s lungs, causing swelling, asthma or bronchitis. Prisk said the task at hand is to determine just how much dust is safe for astronauts to inhale.

Kim Prisk: One of the first things that has to happen is setting an acceptable exposure standard for lunar dust. We know we can’t set an exposure standard of zero… And as with all these things, this is a Goldilocks solution. You want it just right, not too high, not too low, just right.

He said this research could benefit Earth – resulting in new ways to deliver medicine directly to the lungs in spray form.

Special thanks today to the National Space Biomedical Research Institute – innovations for health in space and on Earth.

Our thanks to:
Kim Prisk, PhD, DSc
Professor, Departments of Medicine and Radiology
University of California, San Diego

September 17, 2008
Human World

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