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Exploring a Novel Method for Cleaning Up Moon Dust Using Liquid Nitrogen and Barbie Dolls


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Ever since Neil Armstrong took a small step on the lunar surface, lunar dust has been a problem for astronauts, coating their space suits with a hard-to-clean powder that can be harmful if inhaled.

However, scientists have come up with a new solution to this problem. For their experiment, researchers at Washington State University (WSU) put makeshift spacesuits on Barbie dolls made from materials similar to those used by NASA. The team then blew up the dummies with liquid nitrogen to test how well the cryogenic liquid could remove lunar dust — or, in this case, volcanic ash collected during the nearby Mount St. Helens eruption in 1980, which is similar in consistency to lunar dust. – from the gear.

They found that spraying spacesuit-wearing dummies with liquid nitrogen not only removed more than 98% of the lunar dust substitutes, but also did little to no damage to the spacesuit material. This turned out to be a better solution than the old methods. According to the team’s new study, published Feb. 10 in the journal Acta Astronautica, Apollo astronauts will use mattresses to pump highly abrasive material out of their spacesuits after walking on the lunar surface, eventually degrading it.

Not only is moon dust not only uncomfortably sticky, but contact with it can be toxic to human cells and lead to “moon hay fever,” a disease that causes watery eyes, sore throats, and sneezing. And that’s not exactly what astronauts want to face during an already dangerous mission to the moon.

“Moon dust is an abrasive, electrostatically charged substance that gets everywhere,” says lead author Ian Wells, a mechanical engineering student at the University of Washington. “It can get into spacesuit seals and make them unusable because too much dust causes not properly sealed.” It can also have a negative impact on the lungs of anyone who comes into contact with it.”

The liquid nitrogen experiment succeeded thanks to a phenomenon known as the Leidenfrost effect, which occurs when water hits a surface above its boiling point, causing “a droplet to skim across the surface. When liquid nitrogen boils, it expands 800 times and there is almost a small explosion when it hits the surface of a hot substance,” said co-author Jacob Leachman, assistant professor in the WSU School of Mechanics and Materials Science.

And in this case, the liquid nitrogen almost completely blew the moondust replacement out of Barbie’s suit.

The team presented their findings to NASA as part of the upcoming Artemis mission to the Moon and won the space agency’s 2021 Innovative and Innovative Ideas Competition (BIG).

Source: Living Science

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