UCF students help NASA develop safer technology for planned moon missions

NASA is determined return to the moon by 2024 and research underway at the University of Central Florida is a critical part of that plan.

ORLANDO, Fla. — NASA is determined to return to the moon by 2024, and research underway at the University of Central Florida is a critical part of that plan.

UCF student are now working to learn more by testing the safety of moon dust.

Scientists need to know what we might run into on the moon and whether they should be concerned about astronauts walking on the surface or rovers moving across it.

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NASA has given UCF researchers an additional $500,000 to find the answer.

Inside a UCF physics lab, Dr. Addie Dove explained the key to safe travels to the moon.

“It (moon dust) can get into seals and actually, like, puncture them or scratch them, so seals don't seal as well,” Dove said. “So there's a lot of this stuff that we need to understand better, how it sticks to surfaces and where it moves once it gets kicked up.”

Using two very different types of simulated lunar, or moon, dust fine and rocky. Dove's team works to see how both behave in a low-gravity environment and if any interactions happen that could complicate a moon mission.

In the study, an older version of this experiment, seen in this video from the shuttle days, will be re-enacted on test flights through aerospace maker Blue Origin.

Decades after the Apollo missions, today's lunar landers are bigger and faster and have more powerful engines, making possible damage and effects to the moon's surface an unknown.

This project hopes to answer the questions of what are the better ways to protect humans and equipment for safer technologies to take us back to the moon.

“Maybe we come up with surface coatings that make things stick to surfaces less or maybe we just develop better ways to keep dust out of certain areas so we don't have to worry about it getting into sensitive electrical or mechanical systems,” Dove said.

UCF officials said the study will run for the next year and a half, and the Blue Origin test flights are set to launch in late 2020.