In 1969, NASA scientists finally made it to the Moon, but once they got there an unexpected problem arose in the form of lunar dust. The sticky powdered rock couldn’t get enough of the astronauts' spacesuits who would return from their walks caked in the stuff. To prevent this from becoming a problem on future jaunts to the planet, NASA are seeking the help of students to innovate a lunar dust buster and, in case the opportunity to become a part of space history isn’t enticing enough, there’s a pretty hefty cash prize.
The challengers have left the task quite open, as entries can focus either on removing the dust once it’s attached or creating suit surfaces that are impermeable to it. While lunar dust might not sound all that threatening, it poses a serious threat to astronauts who spend much time in contact with the Moon’s surface. It’s thought the powder becomes so sticky because electrical charges build up as the astronauts move across the moon, sort of like the way static causes hair to stick to a balloon.
Buzz Aldrin, who called lunar dust “one of our greatest inhibitors to a nominal operation on the Moon," was quoted in early NASA reports following the Apollo 11 mission saying, “The more time you spend there, the more you get covered from helmet to boots with lunar dust."
Previous efforts to get rid of the dust have included special brushes and a vacuum, but both were limited in their success. The motivation to invent something more efficient has been spurred on by recent studies that indicated that if the dust were to come into contact with human skin it could create “hydroxyl radicals” that are associated with lung cancer.
With this in mind, NASA is keen to bust the dust ahead of time for their planned return to the Moon with its upcoming Artemis missions, which if successful will see boots on the Moon more than 50 years after Neil Armstrong took one huge step for mankind.
If you think you are up for the challenge, perhaps the offer of prizes up to $180,000 might spur you on? From the entries, a jury will select between five and 10 teams to be awarded prizes upon successfully demonstrating that they’ve found a cure to pesky lunar dust.
“Dealing with lunar dust will require incredibly creative and innovative approaches and collaborating with the Artemis generation through the BIG Idea Challenge is a strategic effort to fuel that type of innovation,” Drew Hope, Game Changing Development program manager at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, said in a statement.
“This competition gives students an unparalleled opportunity as members of the Artemis generation to help overcome the historically challenging technical obstacles of mitigating lunar dust,” said Niki Werkheiser, NASA’s Game Changing Development program executive.