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Dust Problems

by Dennis M. Myers, 07/10/2019

When I was a kid, one of my favorite television shows was Space: 1999. If you never had the pleasure, the premise is that a huge nuclear explosion on the Moon pushes it out of orbit, and the poor folks living in Moonbase Alpha are sent along for the ride. They swoop past new worlds, and meet new aliens. Shredding the laws of physics at every turn. I was a little disappointed when I got older and realized that such an explosion would have simply turned the Moon into a great big could of rubble, before pushing it at high velocity out of orbit. We tend to think of the Moon as a solid rock, in our heads. It's a lot more like earth. Scuff your feet on the beach, you'll kick up a lot of sand and dust, but you have to dig a bit to get down to the solid chunks.

The thing is, that show never dealt at all with the dust. A little brush off, and it was done. I think part of that was because they were depicted as having Earth normal gravity. Brushing dust off at one gee lets the dust settle to the ground. No one ever thinks about it after that. On the Moon, in reality, it's a bit of a different story. It lingers in the air much longer. It doesn't take as much of a breeze to lift it back, either. Inhalation becomes a much greater problem.

On Earth, inhaled stone dust causes serious issues in the lungs. Stone doesn't dissolve, it gathers. It clogs up the tiny alveolar sacs and ducts and then just stays there. Lunar dust is going to do the same thing. Moreover, that stuff is all sharp and jagged edges. Very, very small knives. When someone working with asbestos gets fibers in their lungs, there isn't any chemical reaction. The fibers don't make you sick, like that. They irritate and damage cells directly, which eventually causes cancer. Mesothelioma. I'm thinking that lunar dust could give us the worst of both.

In Final Assembly, I've built this whole society living inside sealed habitats. I only had one scene where the main character travels in a shuttle that goes outside. So I added a tiny part about them cleaning the shuttle after it landed. I don't go into great detail, but this is why that is there.

And yes, I know, the entire crisis is based on a bunch of kids that went outside for fun. Just imagine that airlocks on Luna in 3288 do double duty as steam cleaners.

Now, if you think that is bad. Martian dust is a whole new level of toxic. It's got everything lunar dust has, and something more. According to data from the Pathfinder mission, Martian dust may contain trace amounts of toxic metals, including arsenic and hexavalent chromium. Anyone remember Erin Brockovich? Yeah. Hexavalent chromium is a carcinogenic toxic waste. I wonder what that smells like.

Obviously I'm not saying that going to these places, even living there, is impossible. It's just important to remember that as difficult as we already know it's going to be, it could actually be a lot harder. On the other hand, those spinning drums they've designed as space habitats seem better and better all the time.

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