NASA is asking university students to help solve the lunar dust issue. The winners will be given up to $180,000 to build, test, and showcase their technologies. (Image Credit: NASA)


Lunar dust can be quite dangerous, especially for astronauts, since it's toxic for their lungs. It can also damage spacesuits, equipment and spacecraft. If we're to create a base there or perform future tasks on the surface, then something has to change.


That's why NASA is reaching out to university students to help solve this issue as it plans for sustainable human exploration of the Moon under the Artemis program. The goal is to find a way to remove lunar dust where it's not supposed to be or to prevent it from getting there in the first place.


Lunar dust is very clingy. Early NASA astronauts were covered in moon dust after every spacewalk on the surface. To combat this issue, astronauts took special brushes with them to dust off their spacesuits before going inside the lander. They also used a vacuum, but it wasn't very effective.


What's even worse is that lunar dust can react with human cells, creating "hydroxyl radicals," which are linked to lung cancer. 


Through its annual Breakthrough, Innovative and Game-changing (BIG) Idea Challenge, NASA is searching for creative solutions from students in numerous categories. These include dust prevention and mitigation during landings, spacesuit dust tolerance, exterior dust clean up and controlling lunar dust within habitats. Judges choose between 5 and 10 teams, awarding them with up to $180,000 each to build, test, and showcase their dust mitigation technologies.


"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 within the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD). "Proving a readiness to provide meaningful technical solutions to support near-term lunar missions is key, because NASA may be interested in including all or part of viable concepts into a future space mission."


Teams of five to twenty-five undergraduate and graduate students from accredited U.S-based colleges and universities can enter the 2021 BIG Idea Challenge.


"We've designed this challenge so that teams have minimal constraints to create genuine out-of-the-box solutions," said Drew Hope, Game Changing Development program manager at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. "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."


Researchers at NASA have tried a number of solutions in recent years. Last year, scientists demonstrated a special coating technology that could dissipate electrical charges on the spacecraft.


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