An ambitious project to launch a crowd-funded lunar mission was announced today. A British company, Lunar Missions Ltd., intends to send a probe to the south pole of the moon in 2024. Its mission will include drilling a borehole at least 20 metres into the lunar surface. It is hoped that it will collect lunar rock samples that have lain undisturbed by solar radiation or meteorite impact since the moon formed some 4.5 billion years ago. This may help us understand how the moon and earth were formed and shed light on the practicality of a permanent manned lunar base.
Perhaps more remarkable than this scientific mission is the funding for the project which is expected to come from voluntary public subscriptions. Lunar Missions’s initial funding round is being run as a KickStarter crowdfunding campaign that the company hopes will yield $950,000 (£600,000) in a month. At that point “we will know if the project can move forward”, says Lunar Missions’s press release. The initial funding will allow the company to establish a management team to take the project to the next stage which will involve further rounds of crowdfunding. To attract pledges, the company offers each subscriber their own “digital memory box” in a time capsule to be buried in the moon as part of the lunar mission. Lunar Missions hopes that 1% of the global population who can afford to will eventually support the project, yielding revenues of £3billion ($4.6 billion).
The Lunar Mission One lander will have to be designed during the project, but it is suggested that the launch vehicle could be a SpaceX Falcon 9. Given that subscribers will be able to send their DNA to the moon as strands of hair, the payload is likely to include two or three kilograms of human hair.
While the lunar mission itself is clearly still a tad speculative, Lunar Missions also intend to use pledged funding to develop an educational project. Billed as “one of the most exciting and ambitious academic undertakings in history”, this will be a digital record of life on earth as submitted by the public. Presumably that will come cheap.
Most important of all, Lunar Missions have the media angle covered with Brian Cox and Angela Lamont on board and a glitzy CGI video of what the space craft might look like once they’ve got round to designing it.
Lunar Mission One is a fascinating and very ambitious idea. It will be interesting to see how far they get. If an entire space mission really can be financed without government or corporate backing, it raises the question of why any other area of scientific research would consider such support necessary.