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New York, March 2 – US researchers have developed a novel liquid nitrogen spray that can remove almost all of the simulated moon dust from a space suit, potentially solving what is a significant challenge for future moon-landing astronauts.
Moon dust is electrostatically charged, abrasive and gets everywhere, making it a very difficult substance to deal with.
The sprayer, developed by Washington State University researchers, removed more than 98 per cent of moon dust simulant in a vacuum environment with minimal damage to spacesuits, performing better than any techniques that have been investigated previously.
The researchers reported their work in the journal Acta Astronautica.
During the six crewed Apollo missions to the moon in the 1960s and early 1970s, astronauts used a brush to try to remove the dust from their spacesuits, but it did not work very well.
The abrasive and tiny dust particles can get into engines and electronics.
They also got into the spacesuits, destroying their seals and making some of the expensive suits unusable. Astronauts also suffered from “lunar hay fever,” and researchers think that a longer exposure to the dust could cause lung damage similar to that of Black Lung Disease.
“It posed a lot of problems that affected the missions as well as the astronauts once they returned home,” said Ian Wells, from WSU’s School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering.
The new spray comes even as NASA Artemis mission aims to land the first woman and first person of colour on the moon in 2025 with the hope of eventually setting up a base camp there for further planetary exploration.
The team demonstrated their technology that uses the Leidenfrost Effect to clean the space suits. The effect can be seen when one pours cold water on a hot frying pan, where it beads up and moves across the pan.
Spray the very cold liquid nitrogen at a warmer dust-covered material, and the dust particles bead up and float away on the nitrogen vapour.
The team tested their cleaning method under normal atmospheric conditions and in a vacuum that is more similar to outer space with the sprayer performing better in the vacuum atmosphere.
The liquid nitrogen spray was also much gentler on spacesuit materials than other cleaning methods. While a brush caused damage to the spacesuit material after just one brushing, the liquid nitrogen spray took 75 cycles before damage occurred.