Lunar regolith is nasty stuff - essentially tiny obsidian shards, and the Apollo astronauts had nothing like decent decon on the LEM. Did they have health problems that arose from that? Obviously, Buzz is still kicking around.


I have heard that on some Apollo missions the "dust got everywhere", "was very difficult to control", and "smelled like gunpowder". Also, when the Apollo astronauts were observed when they returned and they did have some symptoms that appeared to be from the lunar dust exposure; but, the dust exposure symptoms did not appear to be chronic.

Note: There were a LOT of nasty things the Apollo astronauts got exposed to in space as they were away from all the things on earth that our bodies depended on (like gravity and the atmosphere). If they did have long term affects from lunar dust, it could be very difficult to tease that out from all the other problems.

The book "The Cosmic Compendium: Space Medicine" has a whole section on Lunar Dust and does state that the "Apollo astronauts seemed to tolerate lunar dust".


Airborne dust was observed, which caused great concern among the crew and medical personnel. However, actual post-flight respiratory results were normal.

The Apollo Program Summary Report describes dust problems and their mitigation:

A troublesome and ever-present problem that was corrected only partly during lunar surface missions was that of dust, On all missions, large amounts of floating dust were present in the lunar module cabin after insertion into lunar orbit. The Apollo 12 crew noted that dust made breathing without helmets both difficult and hazardous. Although all crews, before entering the lunar module, spent considerable time removing dust from their shoes, legs, arms, pressure suits, and lunar surface equipment, the cohesive nature of the dust prevented its complete removal. During the Apollo 17 mission, dust on the lunar module floor was swept into floor receptacles which were sealed before lift-off, but some dust was still present in the cabin atmosphere after lunar orbit insertion. Because of dust, the Apollo 16 crew had difficulty with the installation of their pressure gloves, and the surface equipment locks and handles on Apollo 17 equipment were barely operating by the end of the last extravehicular activity.

Apollo 12 had the worst problems with dust, so much that section 6 of the mission report is exclusively about the problems of dust. Here is how it described the dust in the spacecraft cabin:

The amount of lunar dust encountered by the Apollo 12 crew appeared to be appreciably greater than in Apollo 11. This condition manifested itself by contaminating the atmospheres in both spacecraft and depositing dust over much of the lunar surface equipment and onboard systems. The cohesive properties of lunar dust in a vacuum, augmented by electrostatic properties, tend to make it adhere to anything it contacts. These prop­erties diminish in the presence of the gas of an atmosphere. Upon attain­ing zero gravity, some of the lunar dust floats up in the cabin atmosphere and becomes widely dispersed. This process tends to be continuous, and renders present atmosphere filtration techniques inadequate. The pres­ence of the lunar dust in the cabin of either spacecraft does not detrimentally affect the operation of onboard systems, but the dust could present a hazard to crew health, and at least it constitutes a nuisance. The potential health hazards are eye and lung contamination when the dust floats in zero g. In an effort to minimize this nuisance on future flights, various dust removal techniques were evaluated for cleaning the spacesuits and equipment on the lunar surface prior to ingressing the lunar module.

It also states:

After ascent orbit insertion, when the spacecraft was again subject to a zero-g environment, a great quantity of dust and small particles floated free within the cabin. This dust made breathing without the hel­met difficult and hazardous, and enough dust and particles were present in the cabin atmosphere to affect vision.

According to Biomedical Results of Apollo, all Apollo crews were subject to exercise stress testing on the day of recovery and 1 day after recovery. Twenty-three parameters were measured, including five respiratory parameters. The changes compared to pre-flight measurements were either statistically not significant or had a probability less than 0.02 of being significantly different (see table pp. 268-270).

A suspension of lunar soil from Apollo 14 was injected into the trachea of Cavia porcellus (guinea pigs). They were sacrificed for examination a few days later, and the result was "No unaccountable gross or histopathologic changes."

The respiratory epithelium of the pocket mice carried in Apollo 17 were "unaltered".


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.