Airborne Dust in Space Vehicles and Habitats 2006-01-2152
Airborne dust, suspended inside a space vehicle or in future celestial habitats, can present a serious threat to crew health if it is not controlled. During some Apollo missions to the moon, lunar dust brought inside the capsule caused eye irritation and breathing difficulty to the crew when they launched from the moon and reacquired “microgravity.” During Shuttle flights reactive and toxic dusts such as lithium hydroxide have created a risk to crew health, and fine particles from combustion events can be especially worrisome. Under nominal spaceflight conditions, airborne dusts and particles tend to be larger than on earth because of the absence of gravity settling. Aboard the ISS, dusts are effectively managed by high efficiency filters, although floating dust in newly-arrived modules can be a nuisance. Future missions to the moon and to Mars will present additional challenges because of the possibility that external dust will enter the breathing atmosphere of the habitat and reach the crew's respiratory system. Testing with simulated lunar and Martian dust has shown that these materials are somewhat toxic when placed into the lungs of test animals. However, these simulants may lack some critical properties that contribute to toxicity. These include the following: high surface area per unit mass, reactive surfaces, and the presence of iron. Defining and evaluating the physical and chemical properties of Martian dusts through robotic missions will challenge our ability to prepare better dust simulants and to determine the risk to crew health from exposure to such dusts.