When NASA astronaut Neil Armstrong took his first step on the moon, he was rocking a see-through bubble-shaped helmet fitted with adjustable visors. The polycarbonate shielding and innermost visors protected the Ohio native from the harmful effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
Minimal exposure to UV rays can be beneficial to the body. For one, contact with the UV-B variety stimulates human skin to produce vitamin D3. However, excessive absorption of UV radiation can result in irreversible damage to our DNA, eventually leading to skin cancer. Another common side effect of overexposure to UV radiation is inflammation of the skin, more commonly referred to as sunburn.
The other types of major UV radiation aside from UV-B are ultraviolet A (UV-A) and ultraviolet C (UV-C). Each category shifts at a varied wavelength, with UV-A radiation being the most extensive. Meanwhile, UV-C rays are dangerous for human beings. Fortunately, the ozone layer absorbs most of the UV-C and UV-B rays that pass through the Earth’s atmosphere.
While wearing appropriate clothes can shield you from the harmful effects of UV radiation, applying sunscreen before spending time outdoors is a better defense against the harmful rays that penetrate the ozone barrier.
When it comes to the moon, its lack of atmosphere means that it has barely any protection from ultraviolet radiation. A recent NASA study revealed that the massive amount of UV rays may account for the clouds of dust we see on the moon.
It’s interesting to note that with unfiltered UV radiation ongoing, Armstrong and other astronauts who visited the moon did not come home with awful sunburns. This was due entirely to their spacesuits, which were specially made with heavy fabrics that obstruct UV rays. The suits also come with transparent helmets and visors made of ultraviolet-stabilized polycarbonate that protect the astronauts’ faces.
This means a spacesuit-clad astronaut is not required to put on sunscreen. However, that’s not the end of the story. In 1963, Gene Cernan, a member of the Gemini 9 crew got a triangular sunburn on his back. He had been working on the spacecraft’s exterior when the outer seams of his spacesuit tore, exposing him to the powerful heat of the sun.
Even when they are working inside a spaceship, astronauts are at risk of getting sunburns. For example, when they do their work in the International Space Station, astronauts normally wear cotton shirts and pants. To safeguard them from sunburns, the space station utilizes UV-blocking windows.