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21st CENTURY EXPLORER
Are we there yet?
Why do astronauts eat tortillas instead of bread?
How would your body change in space?
How can we travel faster in space?
What will replace the Space Shuttle?
Why do robots travel places before people?
Why return to the Moon before going to Mars?
Why do we want to study and travel to Mars?
Where would a space explorer find water and oxygen?
What would you find on the Moon’s surface?
What would you hear in a weather report from Mars?
How will your imagination help you become an explorer?
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What would you find on the Moon’s surface?

Subject Matter Expert: Carlton Allen

A fine dust called regolith covers the moon. The bombardment of micrometeoroids broke the moon’s rocks into very tiny pieces, creating regolith.

Scientists have been able to analyze and study the moon’s regolith here on Earth. Between 1969 and 1972, six crewed Apollo missions brought back 382 kilograms (842 pounds) of lunar soil and rock samples.

By studying these samples, scientists found that lunar regolith is about one fifth metals and one fifth silicon. The rest is mostly oxygen. Metals in the moon could be mined and used on future space missions for space construction on the moon. Silicon found in the regolith could be used to make solar powered cells. NASA is looking for ways to pull oxygen from the moon’s surface. Oxygen as a gas could one day support a human base on the moon and fuel vehicles designed to land on and launch from the moon.

The moon’s regolith has some interesting characteristics when compared to Earth’s soil. The particles in moon soil are very small (usually less than 0.1 millimeters across). These tiny particles become electrostatically charged, meaning that they can “stick” to objects like space suits and equipment. Lunar dust is almost like tiny fragments of glass or coral -- odd shapes that are very sharp and lock together. The dust can easily become airborne inside a spacecraft, irritating the space explorers’ lungs and eyes. The darker dust particles can even absorb sunlight and heat up whatever they coat.

Scientists worry about astronauts breathing in this fine dust inside the spacecraft. In some ways, lunar dust resembles the silica dust on Earth that causes silicosis, a serious disease. It won't necessarily happen to astronauts, but it's a problem to consider when we go back to the moon.

Lunar dust has some interesting qualities, but it’s clearly not play material for children or adults. Building a sandcastle on the moon would be dangerous and impossible. No liquid water puts a stop to sandcastle creations. On Earth, water sticks to the sand, and causes sand particles to stick to each other. On the moon, because there is no water, lunar dust cannot stick to itself. You could never build a sandcastle on the moon.

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NATIONAL EDUCATION STANDARDS
National Science Education Standards (NSES)

The following National Education Standards are addressed in this educational package.

Science (NSTA/NRC)
Geography (NCGE)

For an alignment see the Educator Section.