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

Apollo astronauts had to overcome nine types of always troubling and sometimes dangerous effects of fine abrasive lunar dust 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.


Cartoon by Dean Alston of the West Australian -

Cartoon by Dean Alston of the West Australian -


Dust in your eyes

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 of dismissal of dust prevailed.(see THE DUST STORY).

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

The Detector

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.