Before moon landings, scientists thought dust or crust might disrupt touchdown

Excerpt from the May 1, 1965, issue of Science News Letter

Buzz Aldrin on the Moon

STICK THE LANDING  Despite worries that dust might swallow their lunar spacecraft, Buzz Aldrin (pictured above) and Neil Armstrong safely landed and explored the moon's surface during the Apollo 11 mission.


Moon surface safe? — Both the unmanned Surveyor spacecraft and the two-man Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) will be able to land safely on the moon without breaking through the crust or sinking down out of sight in a layer of dust, some scientists now believe.… Another and very different picture of the moon [suggests] the moon has a layer of ice some 300 feet deep, bottled up beneath a surface of sediment topped by dust. — Science News Letter, May 1, 1965.


No lunar spacecraft cracked the moon’s crust or was swallowed by its dust. Some of NASA’s Surveyor crafts and manned Apollo missions landed safely in the 1960s and 1970s, though lunar soot did make visibility difficult during touchdown. Going to the moon revealed that it probably doesn’t have a layer of ice 90 meters down, but it has some ice in craters and at its poles. Current unmanned probes are working to figure out how much. NASA astronauts probably will not get another crack at moonwalking; they are setting their sights on Mars (SN: 8/23/14, p. 22).

Ashley Yeager is the associate news editor at Science News. She has worked at The Scientist, the Simons Foundation, Duke University and the W.M. Keck Observatory, and was the web producer for Science News from 2013 to 2015. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.

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