NASA is working on ways to measure moon dust to help fight air pollution

NASA is planning to put humans back on the surface of the moon with the Artemis missions. Ahead of that mission, the space agency is working on solutions to various problems that arose during the Apollo missions in the past. One of the biggest challenges for some of those Apollo missions was dealing with the dust on the surface of the moon. NASA notes that moon dust is nothing like the type of dust that gathers on shelving in homes around the world.

Moondust is everywhere, and it's highly abrasive with the ability to cling to everything. During the Apollo era, NASA designed a special vacuum to clean moon dust off of spacesuits worn by the astronauts. The problem was the moon dust was so difficult to deal with that it broke the vacuum cleaner. Not only is the dust a hazard to equipment on the moon, it's also a hazard for astronauts too.

The first step NASA is trying to accomplish is to understand how much moon dust is in the local environment at a given time, and its efforts to do that are paying off for life on Earth as well. NASA found during the Apollo era that astronauts were extremely sensitive to breathing in the lunar dust. NASA says that filtration systems can remove a great deal of the tiny lunar dust particles, but an air sensor is necessary to show that the mitigation controls in place are working.

A new air quality sensor was one focus of the NASA Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships program, known as NextSTEP. One of the specific needs detailed for that program was a way to measure lunar dust in surface habitats and on orbiting platforms. A company from Denver, Colorado named Lunar Outpost Inc. developed an air quality sensor dubbed Space Canary.

Space Canary has been integrated into the environment control system and provides distinct advantages over traditionally available equipment. Space Canary was rebranded as Canary-S and fills the need for low-cost, wireless air quality and meteorological monitoring on Earth. The sensors can measure various pollutants, including particulate matter, carbon monoxide, methane, sulfur dioxide, and volatile organic compounds, among others. It can take measurements constantly and send the message to a secure cloud every minute, which is routed to the Lunar Outposts web-based dashboard or a customer's database for review and analysis. The sensor is also highly customizable, allowing it to be tweaked to suit specific uses.