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These NASA wheels leave all our space problems in the dust

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Dust. You might get annoyed by how fast it accumulates on our your car’s dashboard. But that’s chump change compared to the problems NASA has to deal with when considering humanity’s return to the moon in 2024.

Turns out moondust is a world of pain that we nobody wants. Because there’s no erosion on the lunar planet (thanks, lack of atmosphere), rock or meteorite remnants on the moon’s surface remain pristinely sharp. The grains are as fine as powder and stick to absolutely everything, because the sun’s ultraviolet radiation positively charges the dust particle and makes them sticky. As a result, the dust can stop up the motors and cause serious mechanical issues on a moon rover vehicle.

Sooooooo….that means NASA needs to keep the wheels on its Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, or VIPER, dust-free. The VIPER is being used to hunt for water resources on the moon’s South Pole, as part of the Artemis program, NASA’s project to place astronauts on the lunar surface and establish a presence there. This data will inform the maps that will be created for when the Artemis astronauts land on the moon again.

As a result, NASA is developing a flexible, protective cover for VIPER’s entire wheel unit. The cover does double duty: it not only shields the wheel from dust but also insulates it from the moon’s frigid temps (-112 degree Fahrenheit). Early tests have yielded dust-free results inside the rover wheel.

Guess the only thing left in the dust will be wheels of awesomeness.

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