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Profiling lunar dust dissolution in aqueous environments: The design concept

September 2, 2020

Published studies and internal NASA reports indicate that when native lunar dust is suspended in an aqueous solution a variety of metal and other ions are released. This release has implications for future lunar missions, ranging from effects on mission hardware, effects on life support systems, possible direct effects on human health, and effects on research experiments such as plant growth experiments, space biology experiments and any activities that may involve the use of water sourced from the lunar poles. Furthermore, such contaminants could become concentrated or chemically altered to a more hazardous form during a variety of lunar mission activities, including everything from space suit cleaning to lunar industrial materials extraction. The exact profile of the release of ions from lunar dust and the nature of the partially dissolved particles has not been explored. Any model of this dissolution must be based on an understanding of the unique micromorphology of lunar dust, including its glassy nature, agglutinate features, high surface area and the presence of small deposits of elemental iron (nanophase iron) located near the surface of the grain particles. Dust has a very high surface area available for interaction with water. For this reason, on first exposure to water, an immediate pulsed release of ions could occur, with more prolonged release taking place over months or years. The few studies that have been conducted previously have been limited in both the time scales examined and in the selection of ions that were measured. The proposed investigation is a comprehensive materials science investigation, using the most modern analytical tools to catalogue all metals given off from lunar dust in various aqueous solutions and their time profiles of release from the very short term to the very long term. The product of the proposed study will be a comprehensive database determined from NASA curated samples collected from the Apollo landing sites that can be applied to research in both living systems and non-living systems on the moon. The methods developed in the proposed study will also establish standards for analysis of lunar dust samples returned from future manned missions (Artemis and others) and future robotic missions. The knowledge gained from this basic materials science investigation will have broad impact on the design of engineered human safety and health systems.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2021
Title Profiling lunar dust dissolution in aqueous environments: The design concept
DOI 10.1016/j.actaastro.2020.08.032
Authors Russell Kerschmann, Daniel Winterhalter, Kathleen Scheiderich, David Damby, David Loftus
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Acta Astronautica
Index ID 70223224
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Volcano Science Center