Why dust might make or break future human presence on the Moon

Originally published at: Why dust might make or break future human presence on the Moon | Boing Boing


As I suspect is typical of people born in the mid-to-late 60s, when I was growing up I was fascinated with lunar exploration - it seemed like such a big, bold and human adventure
Now, I just wish that the money was spent on fixing the planet that we all live on.

Dust, shmust…


Me too, but I think that we can do both… It’s more about political will and putting our resources into the right places instead of letting corporations dictate our collective direction. Not an easy thing to pull off, but it’s possible…


I’m generally in favor of space exploration and fully support our space telescopes, Mars rovers and the like, but over the years I’ve definitely become increasingly skeptical about the need to put humans there. Robotic technology has come a long way so just about any science experiment that doesn’t involve “what will X do to a human in space”* could be done much cheaper and more safely without a meat bag present. The astronauts on the ISS have always spent the vast majority of their time maintaining the station and attending to their own health, not actually doing science.

So if we’re going to invest countless billions to do a human colony on the moon, or even just do a few more human landings there, I wish that someone would take the time to articulate a really convincing justification for it.

*As an example, here’s one of the accomplishments that NASA is bragging about from their ISS research. Which can be summarized as “being in space for a long time is bad for you, which is important to know if we ever find a reason to put people in space for a long time.”


One does wonder whether a 94% reduction in dust will be sufficient to reduce the risk of lung damage (silicosis?) from long term exposures.


Well as long as each cloned astronaut can survive long enough to fulfill a 3-year Helium-3 mining contract then it all pencils out ok, right?


I did like Moon. But in the end Helium 3 feels more like a Jeopardy response to the answer “The reason that we need colonies on the moon.”
“What is mining helium 3, Alex.”
When you’re looking for a justification for an answer that you already have, the exercise just might be a huge waste of time.


Agreed but I think it’s a perfectly fine premise for a sci-fi film. Just not so great of a justification for real-world space exploration strategies.


I’ll take moderately obscure SF novels for 200, Alex.



Just like my apartment.


I dunno, while I understand lunar dust is more abrasive and punishing than most dust on earth, we have created machines that function in those environments, they just need maintenance.

Fittings will need to be constructed of harder material than the dust so that it won’t wear down tolerances and seals. We may have to use a grease or something to protect certain parts. There will need to be a strict maintenance regime and spare parts that wear. Materials that can combat the static cling effect. For sure there will be engineering challenges for long term exploration, but they are some exciting challenges!


Lovely cover, that.


EXACTLY. It’s plausible rather than planable. A distinction that seems lost on some.


We are miners,
Lunar miners,
To the launch site we must go,
air bottles on our shoulders,
We are bouncing to the slope.

On the line boys,
On the line boys,
Drill your holes and stand in line,
Till the shift boss comes to tell you,
You must drill her out on top

Can’t you feel the rock dust in your lungs,
It will cut down a miner when he is still young,
Two years and the silicosis takes hold,

And I feel like I’m dying,
From mining the Moon.
Yes, I feel like I’m dying,
From mining the Moon

to the tune of


I remember crying when the Apollo missions were canceled. Now I think we can do it better with bots.

I’d still love to go to the moon myself though!


I understand that all the reasonable objectives of spaceflight are better (cheaper, safer etc) taken care of by robots.

But in my heart of hearts I really want to be a space-faring species.

I’d love to see people living on the moon and eventually on mars. It seems reasonable to me that habitation on the moon is not going to be without problems, but it should be easier on the human body than living in low-earth orbit. You have some gravity to work with and living underground would provide respite from meteorites and radiation and such.

One tiny moonbase - Is that too much to ask?


How about we start with a permanent, self-sustaining underwater city first. It would be orders of magnitude safer and easier, you could have a fun “zero-g” floaty experience every time you put on scuba gear, and unlike the moon you would be surrounded by interesting alien-like creatures.


Well, okay, mebbe…

Will it be wet? I don’t want to get wet.