Toxic Moondust... Dec 25, 2005 5:46:57 GMT -6
Post by Chicago Astronomer Joe on Dec 25, 2005 5:46:57 GMT -6
Don't Breathe the Moondust
In 1972, Apollo astronaut Harrison Schmitt sniffed the air in his Lunar Module, the Challenger. "[It] smells like gunpowder in here," he said. His commander Gene Cernan agreed. "Oh, it does, doesn't it?"
The two astronauts had just returned from a long moonwalk around the Taurus-Littrow valley, near the Sea of Serenity. Dusty footprints marked their entry into the spaceship. That dust became airborne--and smelly.
Later, Schmitt felt congested and complained of "lunar dust hay fever." His symptoms went away the next day; no harm done. He soon returned to Earth and the anecdote faded into history.
But Russell Kerschmann never forgot. He's a pathologist at the NASA Ames Research Center studying the effects of mineral dust on human health. NASA is now planning to send people back to the Moon and on to Mars. Both are dusty worlds, extremely dusty. Inhaling that dust, says Kerschmann, could be bad for astronauts.
"The real problem is the lungs," he explains. "In some ways, lunar dust resembles the silica dust on Earth that causes silicosis, a serious disease." Silicosis, which used to be called "stone-grinder's disease," first came to widespread public attention during the Great Depression when hundreds of miners drilling the Hawk's Nest Tunnel through Gauley Mountain in West Virginia died within half a decade of breathing fine quartz dust kicked into the air by dry drilling--even though they had been exposed for only a few months. "It was one of the biggest occupational-health disasters in U.S. history," Kerschmann says.
This won't necessarily happen to astronauts, he assures, but it's a problem we need to be aware of--and to guard against.
More here: science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2005/22apr_dontinhale.htm
I have smelled that gunpowder odor before when I was working with rocks - cutting and shaping them...and I too found it odd that it smelled like gun powder.