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For astronauts, dust is no joke. On the moon and Mars, dust isn’t at all like the stuff under your bed. It can be poisonous, corrosive, even made of razor-sharp glass. So future astronauts are going to need more than a dust buster to get their jobs done.

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If you're into hiking or camping or just picnicking, at some point you've been annoyed by dirt in your boots or dust on your food, but at least that dirt wasn't made of razor-sharp grains of glass, and it probably wasn't corrosive or poisonous either.

So you know it could be worse - like if you were hiking on the Moon, or Mars. For astronauts, dust is no joke. It caused some unexpectedly serious complications during missions to the Moon in the '60s and '70s, and scientists consider it one of the greatest challenges to sending humans to Mars. This dust is nothing like the stuff that builds up under your bed.

On the Moon, you can blame eons of bombardment by micro-meteorites for making lunar dust such a nuisance. For most of its existence, the Moon has been pounded by dust-sized particles, that while tiny, release large amounts of energy in their high-speed collisions with lunar rocks.

These impacts break apart rocks and soil, which are largely made of silica, the same material that sand and glass are made of. The heat from these impacts is so intense that it can actually vaporize the silica, which cools and condenses back to the soil, effectively coating everything with a thin sheen of sharp glass.

These shards are minuscule, sometimes the dust is just a few microns wide, but it's what gives us the powdery grade dirt we associate with the Moon today. 

And as Apollo astronauts were none too pleased to discover, this dust has a horrible case of static cling. During the day, UV rays push electrons out of the dust, and at night, solar winds pound those electrons back in, so the dust is always highly charged. It makes for a sticky situation with charged particles that cling to cameras and visors and tools, not to mention jamming the joints of spacesuits.

Those suits proved impossible to clean, even once back inside the lunar module - it was like trying to separate a hair that's been stuck to a balloon with static electricity. Scientists also worry that shards of glass and minerals in the dust could cause harmful, even fatal lung diseases, like Silicosis, if astronauts are exposed to them for more than a little while.

And there's a similarly unsettling dust situation on Mars, which could be problematic for our future missions. Especially since in some ways Martian dust is actually worse. On Mars, dust is composed mostly of iron oxides, meaning it basically acts like a magnet around anything with a charge. It sticks to electronic devices, or anything with a motor - just take a look at Curiosity. But it's also gonna be a huge problem for humans, because the dust is a strong oxidizer, meaning it's corrosive, like bleach. Not exactly good for the skin.

To make matters worse, it also contains carcinogenic heavy metals, like hexavalent chromium. And Martian dust is just as problematic as lunar dust, once the spacesuit is off. Breathe in some of that stuff and the silicate minerals in it will react with water in your lungs, potentially causing widespread damage like inflammation and scarring.

And Curiosity continues to uncover more information about Martian dust that does not bode well for us. For one, scientists believe the rover has detected the mineral Gypsum on the planet. If inhaled, it could cause a variation of black lung, a disease that coal miners get, that is exactly what it sounds like. And there's evidence that some of the dirt scooped up by Curiosity contains perchlorates, which are known to harm the thyroid gland and interfere with the release of hormones.

As you can imagine, NASA is worried about all this, so they're working on ways to best protect us and our machines from lunar and Martian dust. Scientists test the equipment that might go along for the ride using vacuum chambers that simulate the Martian surface, then pelt the instruments with iron oxide to make sure they hold up.

And one possible solution is an electronic dust shield that can zap the particles off of instruments and spacesuits by running a small charge through thin wires. In 2016, NASA will start testing these shields in space. Whether we're headed back to the Moon or to Mars or both, it's gonna take a lot more than traditional dust-busting to fix this problem.

So if you ever find yourself on either of those worlds in the future, take my advice, and please just keep your helmet on.

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