Space is a dangerous place. Aside from all of the lightsaber-wielding Sith lords, cybernetic hiveminds from the Delta Quadrant, and those sexy-but-oh-so-pesky Cylons, there are all of the space-related illnesses and natural dangers to worry about. Human visitors to outer space have to worry about mysterious “space fever,” excessive levels of cosmic radiation, and (hypothetical) alien viruses.
One of the most worrisome threats to space travelers, though – aside from the cyborg hiveminds – is the host of genetic changes which can occur as a result of spending significant time in space. Astronauts have been returning to Earth with altered genes, and scientists still aren’t sure why. To make matters worse, a new study has found that moon dust can actually cause damage to human DNA and utterly decimate lung and brain cells. What will this mean for our plans of moon colonization?
For one, it means you should keep your space boots on and spacesuits zipped up tight. More importantly, it means any potential lunar colonies will have an ever-present danger to worry about all around them. According to new research published in the journal GeoHealth, several different variations of lunar soil simulants were found to cause extensive cell death in brain cells and lung cells. More worryingly, write the authors, these soil simulants caused damage to human DNA, casting a pall over all of the various plans for lunar colonization being thrown around:
Exposure of neuronal and lung epithelial cells in culture to several types of lunar soil simulants caused cell death and DNA damage. DNA damage can be both short‐term and long‐term problems, and it can affect both the nuclear and the mitochondrial genome. Clearly, avoidance of lunar dust inhalation will be important for future explorers, but with increased human activity on the Moon it is likely that adventitious exposure will occur, particularly for individuals spending long periods of time on that body.
For decades, scientists and science fiction writers have dreamed of the day when mankind would establish permanent colonies on the Moon. Given that lunar dust covers nearly every inch of the moon, this recent study could complicate those dreams significantly – especially given the fact that moon dust is known to ‘levitate’ above the lunar surface thanks to electrostatic fields.
Maybe the moon isn’t such a good candidate for colonization after all. Will we be able find a suitable new home in space before it’s too late? Time to get cracking on a solution, Elon.