HRP Advanced Environmental Health

    Advanced Environmental Health Project

    The Advanced Environmental Health (AEH) project is working toward answering important questions such as “How potentially toxic are lunar dusts?” and “Is the crew at greater risk of infection during a mission?” AEH-sponsored studies gather data that will be used to develop standards for air, water, and other life-support systems, which vehicle or habitat designs must meet. Data from AEH studies also drives the need for monitoring and personal protection hardware for missions to the ISS and exploration destinations.

    Lunar Dust Toxicity

    A toxicology scientist studies lunar dust particles that are small enough to reach the innermost portions of the lungs.
    The toxicity of lunar dust is being studied by NASA’s Lunar Dust Toxicity research project. This group consists of several groups of experts including geologists and toxicologists.

    Studies of toxicity of airborne lunar dust require the use of particles that are small enough to reach the innermost portions of the lungs. The geology team developed a separation method using a stream of ultrapure dry nitrogen to remove the smaller, lighter particles from the larger ones.

    The toxicology team conducted a pilot study at the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health in which native lunar dust; lunar dust ground with a jet mill; or quartz dust, a highly toxic dust used as a positive control, were each applied to the respiratory tracts of rats. Fluid was later collected from the lungs and analyzed.

    These findings were used to determine the doses for an inhalation study in which rats will be exposed to different concentrations of lunar dust in the air they breathe.

    Water Sampling for the Surface, Water and Air Biocharacterization Study

    The Surface, Water and Air Biocharacterization (SWAB) study was designed to provide a comprehensive characterization of pathogenic microorganisms and allergens residing in the ISS. Additional objectives of this flight experiment included an evaluation of the spacecraft’s microbial ecology and preparation of molecular primers to facilitate microbial detection. The goal of these assessments was to define and mitigate crewmember risks from microorganisms during extended periods in space.

    The study monitored hardware before launch and in-orbit by obtaining samples of water, surfaces, and air, which were then analyzed on Earth by means of advanced microscopy, molecular biology, and immunochemical approaches. SWAB air and surface sampling operations began during ISS Increment 13 in September 2006. Water sampling was completed in March and the final set of samples was returned in April 2010. Analysis is underway and will be followed by a final report.