Thursday, January 8, 2009

Moon Dust Recipe

And no, it isn’t a clever new way to fix grits, it’s another simulation in our efforts to master survival on the moon. Here’s another classic "Unsung Hero Working in the Name of Science," and I am always fascinated by details of such projects, because they represent all the "less glamorous" issues we nonetheless must confront in the new space race.

Carol McClemore and her team create "simulated lunar regolith” or, fake moon dust. Why? Because studying this material helps researchers determine how to extract valuable elements from authentic moon dust (and we’ve never obtained enough samples to conduct all the potential research.)

NASA Moon Dust StudyMarshall Space Flight Center's Carol McClemore

Back in 1969, Apollo astronauts made a swift discovery: moon dust is a downright botheration. The particles invaded everything, compromising tools, plugging bolt holes, abrading space suits, coating headgear and cameras, etc. Dealing with the dust needs to be a priority with the next generation of NASA explorers, likely with specialized brushes, magnets – or potentially putting the powdery grit to good use by creating building materials or extracting oxygen.

Swinging a sledgehammer must be awesomely good exercise, and I’d love to donate… except that the rocks in Texas wouldn’t make for a realistic lunar substitute. You can’t just have any old rocks, but the Marshall team found some 2.7-billion-year old magma crust near Stillwater Mine in Nye, Montana, which is similar to the geology of the Moon… so off a-pounding they went.

What I love about stories like this is how we as a species even reached the POSSIBILITY of such a project. In order to create fake moon dust, you have to know a fair amount about the real thing. In order to find the real thing, well there was that pesky little ordeal about leaving our atmosphere, surviving a hostile environment that doesn’t support life, landing gently on an orbiting satellite, playing a few holes of golf and then getting some rocks back home.

I’m not sure why people act like that is so ho-hum now, but it’s truly one of the most exciting things our species has ever accomplished. Maybe Buzz was right... and when we went too far and fancifully into science fiction, we stopped appreciating the natural realities of space exploration. Anywhoo… full story of bringing boulders down to gravel and then using a specific "recipe" to closely approximate moon dust.