Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Astronaut health on moon may depend on good dusting

14.05.2008
Lunar dust could be more than a housekeeping issue for astronauts who visit the moon. Their good health may depend on the amount of exposure they have to the tiny particles.

To prepare for a return to the moon, researchers with the National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) are evaluating how dust deposits in the lungs in reduced gravity in order to assess the health risk of long-term exposure to the particles. The findings will influence the design of lunar bases and could also provide benefits for health care on Earth, such as improved delivery of aerosol medications to the lungs.

NSBRI Human Factors and Performance Team researcher Dr. Kim Prisk said there are major questions that need to be answered. “In the big picture, the questions are: How much goes into the lung? Where does it go? How long does it stay? And how nasty is the stuff?” said Prisk, who is an adjunct professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Diego.

During the Apollo lunar missions in the late 1960s and 1970s, the clingy particles were easily transported via spacesuits into the lunar lander following moonwalks. The amount of dust inside the vehicle was so great some astronauts reported they could smell it.

Even though there were no known illnesses due to exposure, lunar dust is a concern because it has properties comparable to that of fresh-fractured quartz, a highly toxic substance. However, the Apollo flights lasted only a few days. During the proposed return to the moon, astronauts will be exposed to lunar dust for longer periods of time, including missions that could last months.

Due to the moon’s reduced gravity and the size of its dust particles, the respiratory system’s process to remove unwanted matter may not work as efficiently as it does on Earth. “In the moon’s fractional gravity, particles remain suspended in the airways rather than settling out, increasing the chances of distribution deep in the lung, with the possible consequence that the particles will remain there for a long period of time,” Prisk said.

The lungs are a highly sensitive organ because of the large surface area that delivers oxygen molecules through a thin membrane directly to the blood. The health risk to astronauts increases as dust particles go deeper into the lungs.

To conduct the research, scientists take measurements during flights on NASA’s Microgravity Research Aircraft. These airplanes are used to provide short periods of reduced- and zero-gravity during a series of steep climbs and descents.

“During the portions of the flight in which gravity is reduced to levels seen on the lunar surface, we inject particles into a mouthpiece through which the study participants breathe,” Prisk said. “Subjects breathe in and out, and we measure how the particles behave and how many end up inside the lung.”

Prisk said the research flights have been beneficial so far. “With the reduced-gravity flights, we’re improving the process of assessing environmental exposure to inhaled particles,” he said. “We’ve learned that tiny particles (less than 2.5 microns) which are the most significant in terms of damage, are greatly affected by alterations in gravity.”

The next step is to investigate the risks and determine ways to limit exposure. The severity of the risks will determine the level of engineering work needed to limit exposure to lunar dust, which also can cause problems for equipment.

As for benefits on Earth, the research could give scientists a better understanding of how the lungs work, improving the understanding of how particles distribute within the lungs.

“If we learn how to target drugs to specific areas inside the lung, it will be possible to achieve optimal results with small quantities of drugs delivered to exactly the right place in the lung, and it will minimize side effects,” Prisk said.

NSBRI, funded by NASA, is a consortium of institutions studying the health risks related to long-duration spaceflight. The Institute’s science, technology and education projects take place at more than 70 institutions across the United States.

Brad Thomas | NSBRI
Further information:
http://www.bcm.edu
http://www.nsbri.org/NewsPublicOut/Release.epl?r=108

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Blue phosphorus -- mapped and measured for the first time
16.10.2018 | Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin für Materialien und Energie

nachricht All in the family: Kin of gravitational wave source discovered
16.10.2018 | University of Maryland

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Goodbye, silicon? On the way to new electronic materials with metal-organic networks

Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPI-P) in Mainz (Germany) together with scientists from Dresden, Leipzig, Sofia (Bulgaria) and Madrid (Spain) have now developed and characterized a novel, metal-organic material which displays electrical properties mimicking those of highly crystalline silicon. The material which can easily be fabricated at room temperature could serve as a replacement for expensive conventional inorganic materials used in optoelectronics.

Silicon, a so called semiconductor, is currently widely employed for the development of components such as solar cells, LEDs or computer chips. High purity...

Im Focus: Storage & Transport of highly volatile Gases made safer & cheaper by the use of “Kinetic Trapping"

Augsburg chemists present a new technology for compressing, storing and transporting highly volatile gases in porous frameworks/New prospects for gas-powered vehicles

Storage of highly volatile gases has always been a major technological challenge, not least for use in the automotive sector, for, for example, methane or...

Im Focus: Disrupting crystalline order to restore superfluidity

When we put water in a freezer, water molecules crystallize and form ice. This change from one phase of matter to another is called a phase transition. While this transition, and countless others that occur in nature, typically takes place at the same fixed conditions, such as the freezing point, one can ask how it can be influenced in a controlled way.

We are all familiar with such control of the freezing transition, as it is an essential ingredient in the art of making a sorbet or a slushy. To make a cold...

Im Focus: Micro energy harvesters for the Internet of Things

Fraunhofer IWS Dresden scientists print electronic layers with polymer ink

Thin organic layers provide machines and equipment with new functions. They enable, for example, tiny energy recuperators. In future, these will be installed...

Im Focus: Dynamik einzelner Proteine

Neue Messmethode erlaubt es Forschenden, die Bewegung von Molekülen lange und genau zu verfolgen

Das Zusammenspiel aus Struktur und Dynamik bestimmt die Funktion von Proteinen, den molekularen Werkzeugen der Zelle. Durch Fortschritte in der...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Conference to pave the way for new therapies

17.10.2018 | Event News

Berlin5GWeek: Private industrial networks and temporary 5G connectivity islands

16.10.2018 | Event News

5th International Conference on Cellular Materials (CellMAT), Scientific Programme online

02.10.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Elucidating cuttlefish camouflage

18.10.2018 | Life Sciences

Robot-assisted sensor system for quality assurance of press-hardened components

17.10.2018 | Trade Fair News

Sensory Perception Is Not a One-Way Street

17.10.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>