Researchers in the School of Physics have been gaining new insights into lunar exploration, thanks to data collected during the Apollo Moon voyages more than 40 years ago.
Honours student and champion athlete Monique Hollick has been working with Adjunct Professor Brian J. O’Brien examining data on the potentially hazardous dust and radiation effects of the Moon.
A new era began in 1969 when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on Apollo 11 became the first humans to set foot on another celestial body. The six manned Apollo missions to and from the Moon between July 1969 and December 1972 gave the world new insights to our nearest neighbour but also raised many questions.
During those voyages, astronauts deployed self-powered active scientific observatories, whose experiments measured the lunar environment until 1977, transmitting digital data to Earth for recording and analyses.
The UWA team’s data came from matchbox-sized Dust Detector Experiments (DDEs) invented by Professor O’Brien on 12 January, 1966 and deployed by Apollo 11, 12, 14 and 15. Even now, those dust experiments are still the only direct active measurements of the number one environmental problem for Apollo astronauts on the Moon: the sticky, abrasive, powdery dust which is easily disturbed but then inescapable.
Monique has been fascinated by space from a young age and began research on the dust experiments this year for her Physics Honours thesis, in collaboration with Prof. O’Brien and UWA Senior Lecturer Ron Burman.
Their studies of digital data from the solar cells of the DDEs are the most comprehensive analyses of the combined long-term effects of dust and radiation on solar cells on the Moon to date, and provide the groundwork for more future investigations into dust itself.
The research requires frequent communication with international scientists to piece together information and findings, both historical and recent, from various projects in space and in laboratories.
“As a Science and Engineering student, the research has been invaluable,” says Monique. “It required and helped me develop a wide range of professional skills in data analyses, report writing and communication, and provides opportunities to be involved in a stimulating, unique project requiring research in many disciplines.”
Monique is planning to complete her degree in 2012 while continuing the analysis of DDE and related data with Professor O’Brien.
Thoroughly investigating the 40-year-old data is seen as necessary because no such direct experiments of the lunar surface have been performed since the Apollo flights.
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