UK Moon mission invites public to get on board

To boldly go (again): An image of what the lander could look like on the Moon © Lunar Missions Ltd.

A British-led team plans an unmanned expedition to the Moon in the next decade and is asking the public to crowdfund the £600,000 needed. Will it be money well spent?

In 1969, 125 million people around the world sat in awe around their TVs as Neil Armstrong became the first man on the Moon. This week, a British-led team intends to recreate some of that magic, embarking on ‘the most inspirational Moon project since the Apollo landings‘.

Lunar Mission One plans to land an unmanned robotic probe on the Moon in ten years’ time, to explore its south pole and find out whether a permanent base for humans could be set up there. It will also drill down into the lunar surface to study rocks that formed soon after the birth of the solar system.

It’s an ambitious project. What makes it even more remarkable is that the team hopes to fund it through public donations. For just a few pounds anyone can get involved in the mission, but the team must raise £600,000 using the crowdfunding website Kickstarter in the next four weeks for initial funding. After that, a further £500m will be needed.

Donors will be able to have photos, messages and their DNA included in a time capsule which will be buried under the Moon’s surface. They can even send a strand of their hair, which the team claim could survive for a billion years.

The capsule will also contain a public digital archive of human history and science which, due to the conditions on the Moon’s surface, is expected to survive long after our species becomes extinct.

The team hopes the mission can provide answers to questions that still perplex scientists, such as the origin of the Moon. The lander will analyse the lunar rocks’ composition and check whether it matches that of rocks on Earth. If it does, it would suggest that the Moon was created in a giant collision between Earth and a small planet around 4.5bn years ago.

Lunar-tics?

Polluting the Moon with human hair won’t rank among the great space achievements, some say. Much more enthralling was last week’s landing of the Philae probe on a comet - an extraordinarily challenging mission, and something humans have never before managed. We’ve been to the Moon before, and it will be difficult to recreate that magic, particularly as there is no option to actually travel there.

But governments now find it increasingly difficult to fund outer space exploration, and while projects like Virgin Galactic are making Earth orbital space the playground of the very rich, crowdfunding this bold venture may create an important legacy. Learning about the Moon is crucial to further understanding of the creation of the solar system and the DNA in the capsule could serve as a ‘backup drive’ for human civilisation. In 1969 people could only watch from their sofas as man conquered the Moon, now they can actively get involved.

You Decide

  1. Would you donate money to this project?
  2. What do you find more exciting: burying your photos in a time capsule on the Moon or finding out how the Moon came into existence?

Activities

  1. In groups, discuss what you think should be in the time capsule. Present your ideas to the class and vote on the best ones. The class can only send 10 items, so choose wisely.
  2. Class debate: 'This House would colonise the Moon’.

Some People Say...

“This mission is nothing more than a pointless vanity project.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Cool! I want to get involved in this. How much will it cost me?
Well that depends on how flush you’re feeling. For £3, you will receive the team's 'eternal thanks and a place in space history'. A certificate will cost £15 and a digital memory box to be included in the lunar time capsule starts at £60. You’ll need to save up a bit more if you want your name inscribed on the lunar landing module, which will set you back £3,000. To watch it land from mission control will cost £5,000.
Are they going to raise the funds they need?
At the time of writing, over £115,057 had been raised on Kickstarter and there are still 28 days to raise the remainder of the initial £600,000 required. But keeping the momentum going over the course of the month, and indeed the next few years, could be a challenge.

Word Watch

Apollo landings
Apollo 11 was the spaceflight that landed the first humans, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, on the Moon. Broadcast on live TV around the world, Armstrong stepped onto the lunar surface and described the event as ‘one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.’
Kickstarter
Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter use networks to gather money from the public for projects. Supporters say this means that projects are not the preserve of a few powerful backers.
Philae probe
After a ten year, 6bn kilometre journey across the solar system, the Rosetta spacecraft released its fridge-sized lander called Philae last week. Philae then made the first ever landing on the surface of a comet.
Virgin galactic
Around 700 people have already paid $250,000 each in advance to Richard Branson’s company for a flight 100km above the Earth involving three minutes of weightlessness. But tragedy struck earlier this month, when its prototype tourist spacecraft broke apart 45,000 feet in the air, killing one of its pilots.

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