NASA Needs Fake Moondust

NASA needsmore moondust. And not just a few sterile baggies of moondust. NASA engineersneed tons of it - or a suitable simulant.

NASA has lots of new plansfor lunar gadgets and lunar equipment, given the new plans to returnto the Moon. Since we've been there before, and we've gathered samples, weknow what a problem moondust can be.

The lunarsoil (or regolith) covering the Moon's surface is a complex material thatis sharp and abrasive - with interlocking glass shards and fragments. It is apowdery grit that gets into everything, jamming moving parts and abradingspacesuit fabrics. It can also get into living spaces, where it is impossibleto brush off, due to ease with which lunardust picks up electrostatic charges. And can even irritate the lungs ofastronauts. Astronaut Jack Schmitt had a case of "lunar dust hayfever" during his stay on the Moon.

For testing purposes,noting else will do. And supplies of the real thing, brought back during theApollo program, have run out. "We don't have enough real moondust to goaround," says Larry Taylor, director of Planetary Geosciences Institute atthe University of Tennessee in Knoxville. To run all the tests, "we needto make a well-qualified lunar simulant."

An early substitute, JSC-1,was developed in 1993. It consisted of basaltic volcanic cinder cone depositsfrom a quarry near Flagstaff, AZ. It's replacement, JSC-1a, comes in threedifferent varieties based on grain size: fine, moderate grain and coarse grain.Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) is working on three new simulants that willprovide fake moondust from three different lunar areas; two will represent mareand polar highlands regions, while the third will represent the sharp, glassy,jagged regolith that is the worst that the Moon has to offer.

The Moon offers too manydistinct varieties of regolith to economically simulate each one.

We willdevelop root simulants and manufacture specific simulants from these, but alsoenable investigators to enhance the products as needed," Carol McLemore,program manager at MSFC, stated. "I liken this process to baking a cake:depending on the type of cake you want, you need certain ingredients for it tocome out right and taste right. Getting the recipe right whether for a cake orlunar simulants is critical."

Sourcematerials for simulants will probably come from many diverse locations inMontana, Arizona, Virginia, Florida and Hawaii. For example, the mare simulantwill use ilmenite, a crystalline iron-titanium oxide. Once NASA understands howto make the simualants, and determines the best composition, certificationprocedures for vendors will ensure that fake moondust meets NASA standards.

More lunar dust news:

Read more about fake lunardust at NASA.

(This Science Fiction inthe News story used with permission from Technovelgy.com - where science meets fiction.)

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