Humans have been thinking about establishing a base on the moon for a long time — the first known articulation of the idea is in Bishop John Wilkins’ 1638 treatise A Discourse Concerning a New World and Another Planet. Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein have also explored the idea. The U.S. Army’s 1959 Project Horizon evaluated the plan to establish a lunar base by 1967. The U.S. Air Force also had such a plan. In 2004, George W. Bush pushed for a crewed return to the moon by 2020, with the intention of investigating the possibility of a lunar base. Russia, China, Japan, India, and the ESA all have long-range plans for a lunar base. All of this is a lot of talk, especially given that no one’s walked on the moon since 1972. But the UK recently announced its intention to do more than talk as part of its goals for Lunar Mission One.
The mission involves sending a spacecraft to drill up to 300 feet into the moon’s surface by 2024. The deepest samples humans currently have are from the 1972 Apollo 17 mission, and those were retrieved from less than 10 feet down. The plan is to drill below the surface in an area that bears evidence of a massive impact long ago. Retrieving such samples will allow scientists to see into the past and gain more information about the formation of the moon.
The Lunar Mission will focus its exploration on the moon’s south pole, which remains entirely unexplored. The deepest known impact crater — almost 40,000 feet — in the solar system resides there, so the rocks in the area could be billions of years old. Scientists will also gauge the feasibility of constructing an observatory on the moon’s south pole. Since the lunar south pole sometimes points away from Earth, it would be less susceptible to interference from our various transmissions, and thus potentially able to detect signals from some of the oldest galaxies in the universe.
Another bit of information scientists are looking to gather is how far down water exists on the moon. Astronomers currently believe that some water is located in the surface soil near the south pole, but if humans are going to put a base on the moon, we’ll need deeper and bigger stores of water. Such analyses will also look for organic compounds that could have hitched a ride to the moon via a meteorite.
Perhaps the most interesting detail about Lunar Mission One is that it’s crowd-funded. There are nine days left on the mission’s Kickstarter, which has currently raised about 75% of its goal, just under $1 million. A capsule chronicling Earth’s history will be buried deep in the moon, and donors can add their own information, including a hunk of hair, to that historical record. If that doesn’t get you to donate, I’m not sure what would.