Twelve men have walked on the moon and twelve men have returned to Earth with the same symptoms. This mysterious condition is intriguing specialists in space exploration who are now trying to determine the causes of this lunar dust hay fever. Twelve scientists from the ESA (European Space Agency) have been brought together to find out.
25% of the population suffer from hay fever which is a figure that is increasing and therefore making this allergic reaction sadly quite common. But there's another, very similar condition which is even more common.
100% of people who have walked on the moon are now suffering from the same symptoms. Known as 'lunar dust hay fever', this condition, which is now affecting every single American astronaut, is both intriguing and worrying. To understand more about this condition, the European Space Agency has brought together a group of scientists to research this.
Identical and worrying symptoms
Classic symptoms of hay fever include sneezing, having a blocked nose, an inflamed larynx, watery eyes, and can affect the sufferer for days before disappearing. This is also exactly what every astronaut that has walked on the moon has experienced when they returned from their space journey.
It’s this similarity to 'Earth' hay fever that inspired Harrison Schmitt, an American astronaut who was part of the Apollo 17 mission in 1972, to give it the name 'lunar dust hay fever'.
It’s only when the astronauts returned to Earth and the particles that were caught on their suits started to give them sore throats and watery eyes, that astronauts and scientists began to worry about the toxicity of this moon dust. Could venturing into space actually be a danger to human health?
To find out more about this and avoid a future where the well-being of other astronauts is affected, scientists from the ESA decided to launch a research program including experts from all around the world.
'We don’t know how bad this dust is. It all comes down to an effort to estimate the degree of risk involved for future missions,' explained Kim Prisk, a pulmonary physiologist from the University of California, who is one of the 12 scientists in in this research team.
We already know a bit about this dust. On the moon, this dust that people are so interested in, is very abrasive and has even been known to eat away at layers of space boots and attack the hermetic seals on containers for samples on the Apollo! It also left the inside of the spacecraft with a smell similar to that of gunpowder.
The silicates that it contains are particles that are normally found in areas around active volcanoes and so when it is inhaled, can lead to breathing difficulties and lung damage which has been observed in people that work in mines in these regions.
On our planet’s natural satellite, there is six times less gravity than on Earth, which is what causes things to float around in space. 'Particles 50 times smaller than a human hair can hang around for months inside your lungs. The longer the particle stays, the greater the chance for toxic effects,' says Kim Parisk to The Daily Mail.
In order to know more about how this enigmatic matter behaves and to test equipment that would be used on these types of voyages, researchers on the ESA project will be using a substitute for this space dust that they’ve retrieved from a volcanic region in Germany.