Prof Brian J O'Brien  - NASA Principal Investigator - Lunar Dust Expert

Prof. Brian O’Brien in March 2019

Apollo astronauts had to overcome nine types of always troubling and sometimes dangerous effects of fine abrasive lunar dust (Gaier, James R., NASA/TM - 2005-213610/REV1, 2007) as their inescapable Number 1 environmental problem on the Moon and the only problem for which they had no training. The only measurements of movements of such dust were made by the matchbox-sized Apollo Dust Detector Experiments (DDEs) invented by Professor Brian  J. O'Brien on 12 January 1966 as a risk-management instrument before either the Soviet Union Luna 9 or the US Surveyor 1 had taken the photographs of lunar soil.

"Dust on the Moon has been a politically incorrect subject for more than 50 years but I know it is a delight to explore and a lunar window into the Extraterrestrial. Some difficulties arise perhaps because a very high proportion of geologists in lunar science find dust a nuisance for various reasons (see Publications O'Brien, B.J., 2012, “Apollo measurements of lunar dust amidst geology priorities”, Australian Journal of Earth Sciences, 59, pp. 307-320). Administrators and engineers in 1965 grew and generalised mindsets from neglect of a caveat in "dismissal" of the importance of lunar dust (see NASA Oral History of Noel Hinners, August 2010). 

Here in this website, my hope is to communicate and share delights, and provide the global community during this 50th Anniversary celebration a resource for accurate measurement-based reports about movements of fine dust on the Moon. 


Cartoon by Dean Alston of the West Australian -

Cartoon by Dean Alston of the West Australian -



Four years after President Kennedy announced the challenge to land a man on the Moon and return him safely to Earth, the April 1965 IAU-NASA Symposium "The Nature of the Lunar Surface" agreed that it would be safe to land on the dust of the Moon, and four years later Apollo 11 proved it. Noel Hinners (NASA Oral History, 2010) described the reaction to Ranger photos of a big rock sitting calmly on the surface and not sinking out of sight. So thus anybody in his right mind would conclude that the bearing strength of the lunar surface was not an issue..... What’s the problem? Most of us dismissed that concern." By 1966 the need to include a dust detector was dismissed, as the caveat about bearing strength became forgotten among the thousands of issues to be resolved, and "dismiss dust" became the general belief. The Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC) Apollo 11 Preliminary Science Report chose to misinterpret the measurements. The belief in dismissal of dust became a mindset, distorting decisions. (see THE DUST STORY).

Apollo 12 DDE with 1 cent O'Brien label 1968 2008 copy.jpg

O'Brien's original invention proposed to NASA in January 1966, attached a tiny bead-like thermometer on the back of each cell. This is the only Apollo experiment measuring both cause and effect of dust heating spacesuits and equipment, jamming zippers and increasing friction-like effects on moving parts, common problems on each Apollo mission.