Sunday, 23 November 2014

Lunar Mission One – a Voyage of Discovery and an Archive of Humanity

by Tim Bustin

About seven years ago, my Dad comes home from work talking about this new project he’s trying to get started. Officially his title is ‘Oil and Gas Consultant’, which essentially means he works with major oil companies on different global projects, from selling oil refineries to setting up drilling sites across the world. This project was something different altogether – he was talking about drilling in space. More specifically, drilling on the Moon.

Up to today, the deepest we’ve ever drilled into the Moon’s surface comprises only a few metres, and that was done on expeditions by astronauts on the Apollo missions some thirty years ago (as well as one unmanned Russian attempt). That is just the top coating of dust (the regolith) – the tip of the iceberg. The plan here is to drill down to 100 metres. You may have heard the interesting fact that we’ve mapped more of the Moon’s surface than our own oceans, but that’s just the point – we can scratch the barren lunar surface to our heart’s content, but just from Earth that is it. Nobody can really know what we would find if we were to dig deeper, past theories and the next best guess. We don’t know whether the Moon’s core is rock-cold or if a source of heat hides deep below. What could possibly be the reason for the occurrence of Moon quakes? Does this natural satellite share a similar crust structure to the Earth? This is a chance to discover more about the early solar system, and how exactly the Moon was formed from the Earth millions of years ago. Imagine finally answering these incredible questions!

For a few years, my Dad (a former PGS pupil) led the drilling team, helping to build up this project – from laying down its framework to the bringing in of more and more experts to the funding idea eventually proposed by the man currently running Lunar Mission One, David Irons. The idea is a permanent archive of humanity where, for a trivial £65, anyone can have their DNA stored in a ‘Digital Memory Box’ to be buried under the Moon’s surface when drilling begins. The Moon is the most inert object in the solar system, meaning this capsule will remain unharmed, and this library of people will survive potentially billions of years. Unfortunately, we’ll still have to wait another ten before the lander finally arrives at the lunar South Pole to begin its unmanned drilling, but the technological innovations involved, such as the complications of drilling in zero-gee and from 240,000 miles away, and the discoveries we will make are (and will be) truly captivating.
And my dad co-started it. I mean, that’s pretty cool, right? 

Unfortunately his involvement has been more limited recently because of other work commitments, but two years ago he enabled a few PGS A-level physics students, myself included, to go on a trip to the Rutherford-Appleton Laboratory (RAL) where the initial technical design for Lunar Mission One was completed (including Lander, see right). This was, of course, way before the public announcement so the eight or so of us who went have had to keep our lips sealed up to now – but there we saw some awesome things across a range of other projects too.

Because of this trip, and other talks PGS has had with the Lunar Mission team, we are currently the only school in the country actually involved in the project itself. Literally, we can become part of something utterly ground-breaking. 

At times, when the conversation occasionally got brought up at home, my Dad had heard that the project was delayed or maybe they wouldn’t be able to get government approval or they were having problems with the fundraising. It’s disheartening to realise just how tricky it is to get these voyages of discovery started – so it must have been an incredibly proud feeling to hear about the announcement on Thursday. 

There is still a further ten years to wait until Britain finally touches down on the lunar surface for the first time, but the general public (you and I included) can get involved right now by donating to the mission online (link below), hence securing our place in eternity. Without doubt, the importance of our discoveries, and certainly the new Archive of the Human Race, will last for innumerable centuries to come.

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