Lunar Mission One plans to launch the first probe to the south pole of the moon and is seeking to raise funds via Kickstarter. As part of the mission, backers can leave a digital “memory box” on the moon or even a strand of hair. The mission is just the latest scientific endeavor to turn to the public for help as governments are setting aside fewer dollars for research.
Launched by London-based Lunar Missions Ltd., the lunar mission will drill deep into the South Pole of the moon, at least 20 meters and possibly up to 100 meters, which could lead to new insights into the formation of the moon, Earth and the solar system. The mission will also serve as an educational program to raise awareness for space exploration and technology. To accomplish these objectives, Lunar Mission One is raising 600,000 pounds (around $940,000) on Kickstarter and more via a sales effort by a “major consumer company.”
“Governments are finding it increasingly difficult to fund space exploration that is solely for the advancement of human knowledge and understanding as opposed to commercial return. The world-class team of advisors and supporters we have assembled will address this issue and, crucially, anyone from around the world can get involved for as little as a few pounds. Lunar Mission One will make a huge contribution to our understanding of the origins of our planet and the moon and will inspire a generation to learn more about space, science and engineering – in the same way that my generation was inspired by the Apollo moon landings,” David Iron, founder of Lunar Missions Ltd. and the Lunar Missions Trust, said in a statement.
Kickstarter pledges start at 3 pounds and include access to community updates such as photos and videos. For 60 pounds ($94), backers can have access to digital “memory boxes.” The memory boxes will be collected as part of a “21st century time capsule,” along with a public archive containing a “digital record of life on Earth,” which will be buried on the moon. “Think of it like an iPod or memory stick: Into your memory box, you will be able to upload whatever digital information you want -- a personal message, a photo, a family tree, a poem, a video, your favourite song…the choice is yours!” Lunar Missions explains on the Kickstarter page.
The team behind Lunar Mission One is not the first to ask the public for help as more and more scientific projects have enlisted the aid of "citizen scientists." The ISEE-3 Reboot Project raised $125,000 to resurrect a retired NASA satellite. The team was able to establish communication with the satellite and was able to fire up its thrusters in July.
One crowdsourced effort has raised some controversy since it could be considered misleading and affects established practices. The startup Uwingu announced a plan to name 500,000 observed craters on Mars, starting at $5, but the names would not be officially approved. The International Astronomical Union is the group responsible for naming conventions of celestial objects and criticized Uwingu's campaign. In response to the controversy, the IAU launched the NameExoWorlds to include more public response.
NASA has also sought the help of the public as part of its "Asteroid Grand Challenge," which will attempt to improve asteroid detection and all Near-Earth Object threats. Other projects, such as MoonMappers, also rely on volunteers for science.
Perhaps the most ambitious scientific project to call on the public is the Mars One mission, which selected its first pool of 1,058 astronauts in December 2013. The mission hopes to place a colony on Mars in 2024.
Since 1959, there have been 76 missions to the moon, with lunar exploration peaking in 1965 to 1972 with Apollo 17, the last crewed landing on Earth's natural satellite. While NASA, and other space agencies, has turned their attention toward Mars and deeper into the solar system, there's plenty of exploring to be done on the moon. Drilling into the lunar surface could shed new light on how the moon was formed. Known as the late heavy bombardment, it is believed Earth collided with an object the size of Mars, which led to the creation of the moon around 4.4 billion to 4.45 billion years ago.
Lunar Mission One continues the trend of using robotic explorers to investigate the moon. "Contemporary missions like NASA's GRAIL, LADEE and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter have helped us explore the upper atmosphere, surface, and interior of our nearest neighbor in the solar system," NASA was quoted as saying to CNN. Just last year, NASA launched the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) while China launched the Chang'e 3 lunar lander and rover.
Lunar Mission One is scheduled to launch in 10 years.