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Breathing In Lunar Dust Can Be Very Bad For Humans Says Study

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Researchers have a stern warning for those who hope to fly to the surface of the moon in the future: do not inhale moon dust.

In a new study, researchers revealed that moon dust can cause serious health issues to humans. When inhaled, the stuff can irritate the lungs.

Moon Dust Is Dangerous To The Health

It's a major health concern for future astronauts," said Donald Hendrix, lead author of the study.

Hendrix and colleagues from the Stony Brook University in New York studied the moon dust samples collected from previous manned lunar missions. They found that lunar dust can react negatively with human cells, creating "hydroxyl radicals" that have previously been linked to lung cancer.

However, that is not even the worst possible outcome. Another study published earlier this year found that lunar dust can cause serious damage to the cells' DNA. After exposing mouse brain cells and human lung cells to simulated lunar dust samples, 90 percent of the lung cells and neurons died.

Albeit small and seemingly harmless, moon dust is one of the issues that future astronauts and, perhaps, colonies, might face after stepping into the surface of the moon. Because there is no wind in the moon, the dust, which largely created from meteorite impacts, remains sharp and abrasive. The stuff can tear spacesuits, cause buggies to overheat, and puncture the lungs.

When Astronauts Inhaled Moon Dust

NASA has known that lunar dust is bad for the health since the 70s after one of its astronauts, Harrison Schmitt, accidentally inhaled the stuff during the Apollo 17 mission. After returning to the module following a moonwalk, the astronaut sniffed the air and commented that the air smelled like gunpowder.

Later that day, Schmitt felt ill. He complained of what he called "lunar hay fever," which was accompanied by watery eyes, throbbing throat, and a sneezing fit. Luckily, he did not suffer any serious consequence. His symptoms disappeared the next day.

"In some ways, lunar dust resembles the silica dust on Earth that causes silicosis, a serious disease," stated Russel Kerschmann, a pathologist at the NASA Ames Research Center. "It was one of the biggest occupational-health disasters in U.S. history."

The U.S. space agency is addressing the problem by developing technologies that can protect future astronauts when they land on the surface of the moon and eventually, in the equally dusty landscape of Mars.

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