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Monday, May 2, 2016

The Moon Guards Her Secrets: Introduction

Photo credit NASA
I'm going to be busy with edits and the writing of two new stories over the next month or two, so I'm declaring this Official Moon Month on Spacefreighters Lounge.

Over the next five weeks, I'm going to dish on some of the secrets of our very mysterious neighbor. Turns out she's quite a vixen, with a fascinating and tumultuous past...and present. Even being the closest heavenly body to Earth--and the only extraterrestrial entity we've ever set foot on as a species--there's still much we don't know.

Today and for the next four weeks, I'll be delving into some of the Moon's Earth-shaking facts and startling discoveries.

But, let's start with introductions.

Moon...meet the Spacefreighters patrons. (You want to give her a little wave. She's a bit nervous about being in the spotlight. She's used to being the spotlight.)

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The Moon Guards her Secrets
Part I: Introduction

The Moon. Wellspring of myths and legends. Symbol of romance and mystery. Earth's constant companion who can light our way in the black of night or turn a dark face to the world. As eerie and diabolical as our Moon can appear, its history--and its future--are the stuff of nightmares.

Our Moon is an unique conundrum. For one, it's huge, with the planet-to-moon ratio being the largest in our solar system by far. It creates the tides of our planet and stabilizes Earth's planetary tilt, which has had astounding consequences for life on Earth. Some believe the Moon can even affect the behavior of man and beast, and carries the power to transform legendary creatures.

There have been many stories, beliefs and misguided theories about the Moon over the long centuries.

Photo credit NASA
The Moon is made of green cheese.

There is a Man in the Moon.

The Moon turns people into lunatics.

A cow can jump over her.

The Moon triggers the shape-shifting of werewolves.

The surface of the Moon is covered in dust over 40 feet deep.

In July of 1969, a man first ventured onto her surface in "one small step," and that "giant leap for mankind" dispelled much of the misinformation, yet barely scratched the surface of the Moon's mystery and influence.



This "cold-hearted orb that rules the night" (credit Peter Knight, The Day Begins performed by The Moody Blues) has often been the subject of speculative science fiction literature and films, such as The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein, 1966, or First Men in the Moon, a 1964 film based on a book by H. G. Wells from 1901. Both are excellent, if extremely dated, stories.

Turns out, the Moon isn't the serene globe of dust and solitude we once believed it to be.

What we have learned is that the Moon is not at all friendly. In fact, it's toxic. The dust that covers the surface has sharp edges that affects equipment and smells like gunpowder but cuts like miniature razors. It can penetrate layers of tough Kevlar material on Moon boots and destroy the vital joints on pressurized suits. The electrostatically-charged particles cling to everything, including astronauts, and so can be unwittingly carried into craft after excursions on the lunar surface. If inhaled, the razor sharp edges can damage the lungs and can go directly into the bloodstream, affecting the cardiovascular system. It can also harm human skin and eyes. It may even cause cancer.

Accumulation of lunar dust--or regolith--on a Chinese rover is believed to be the cause of its failure in early 2014. The Yutu (or Jade Rabbit) rover carried ground-penetrating radar, with infrared and x-ray spectrometers on a robotic arm that were capable of measuring the chemical composition of the soil. This Moon dust may have created catastrophic friction for the rover's moving parts, as well as interfered with the effectiveness of the solar panels. Jade Rabbit is now dead, a permanent testament to the dangers that lurk on the lunar surface. The Moon is indeed a harsh mistress.

Photo credit NASA
But lunar dust doesn't pose the only threat to visitors. The Moon has no natural magnetic shield against cosmic radiation like that on Earth. The surface, and anyone on it, can be exposed to radiation and secondary particles that can penetrate spacesuits and skin. This will damage DNA and can later cause cancer. Why were none of the astronauts of Apollo missions affected? The answer is simple but frightening. Pure luck. Because the Apollo missions lasted only a few days, none of the astronauts were exposed to major radiation events.

Because the Moon has no protective atmosphere, she is constantly bombarded by meteors, averaging 100 a year, or an impact about once every three days.

In addition to these threats, the temperature on the surface of the Moon can vary by nearly 400 degrees Fahrenheit between day and night, there is very low gravity (about 16.6% of Earth's), and the Moon has an almost non-existent, un-breathable atmosphere made up primarily of potassium and sodium.

Clearly, she presents a challenge to any efforts to colonize her.

Yet the Moon is a part of us. It has been in our history as long as we've had a history and embedded in our mythology, legends, music, daily life and popular culture. Its influence on our society and our lives is undeniable. In truth, the Moon's powers over us are deeper and darker than we may even understand.

For without the Moon, mankind might not exist at all.

Next week:
The Moon Guards her Secrets
Part II: Origins Unknown

Resources:
Photos Credits: NASA
UniverseToday.com; The Moon is Toxic
TheRegister.com: China Confirms Jade Rabbit Rover has Conked Out
NASA Science News: Radioactive Moon
Space.Com: Space Radiation Threat to Astronauts Explained (Infographics)
Space.Com: Radiation Protection for Moon-Based Astronauts
SpaceAnswers.Com: How Did Lunar Astronauts Survive Extreme Temperatures on Moon?
NASA.gov: Is There an Atmosphere on the Moon?

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