Last month, exciting plans for the UK’s first trip to the Moon, Lunar Mission One, were announced at the Royal Society in London. Now, the project has released detailed information on its scientific goals for the mission, which has two main strands: assessing the feasibility of establishing a permanently manned base on the Moon, and drilling through the surface to further our knowledge of the origins of the Moon and the Earth.
Although there have already been more than 50 expeditions to the Moon, there is plenty to be gleaned from this newly proposed mission. That’s because no one has ever ventured to the Moon’s South Pole, which is of particular interest because it is home to the largest and oldest impact crater on the Moon, the South Pole-Aitken (SPA) basin. With a diameter of 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles), this giant crater covers almost a quarter of the Moon. Scientists think that fragments of the SPA impact may still exist at the site which could be used to date the basin, which is a key event in the satellite’s history.
Project members have yet to pick a spot for touchdown from a proposed list, but the majority of the data will be obtained by drilling a borehole at the landing site, which will be about the size of a football stadium. The goal is to drill to a depth of at least 20 meters, which is around 10 times further than anyone has gone before, but they could potentially go down to 100 meters. Samples will be retrieved for analysis on the craft’s onboard laboratory, and instruments will also be placed within the hole.
Drilling this deep will give scientists access to 4.5 billion year old lunar rock that was thrown up by large asteroid impacts from several kilometers below the surface. Studying these samples should give scientists the exciting opportunity to further our understanding of the origins and early history of the Moon, which is thought to have been born when proto-Earth collided with a Mars-sized planetary body called Theia. By analyzing the geological composition of these deep samples, scientists may come closer to determining whether the Moon and our planet truly share a common origin.
The other strand of the project will be to assess whether the Moon is suitable for the establishment of a permanently manned base for space exploration, something scientists have been contemplating for the last 50 years. Space agencies could possibly one day launch rockets from such a base, which would be an economically attractive option since the gravity is weaker on the Moon than the Earth, meaning less energy is required for launch. Furthermore, a radio telescope could be set up at the base to observe distant galaxies, and since the South Pole is largely shielded from interference from Earth’s broadcast transmissions, this area could represent an ideal spot.
The project comes with a £500 million ($784 million) price tag, the majority of which is hoped to be raised through crowdfunding with Kickstarter. If the necessary £600,000 ($950,000) can be raised by next week, the project can move forward and planning can commence. So far, an impressive £476,000 has been raised.
[Via Lunar Mission One, BBC News and The Independent]