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Meet the British Scientists Who Want to Kickstart Their Way to the Moon

The team behind Lunar Mission One have already raised a third of their £600,000 goal.

All images are an artist's rendition of the Lunar Mission One probe

Last Wednesday saw the landing of the Rosetta probe on the comet 67P. Everyone made a big deal about it, which is totally understandable: you can probably only get a scrunched up piece of paper in a bin about three times out of ten, can't you? Scientists fired a rocket a decade ago and just landed it on a moving comet. Think about that.

Anyway, in the spirit of landing things on distant satellites, yesterday Lunar Mission One launched a Kicks​tarter with the aim of raising funds to probe the south pole of the moon. Why? Good question. Mainly, it's to drill Armageddon-style into the surface of the moon. But it's also a neat little project that proves that, despite funding cuts, tiny irrelevant humans here on Earth still want to explore other planets and moons. In little over a day they have already raised over £200,000 of their £600,000 goal, with D:Ream keyboardist Brian Cox one of the bigger names to lend their support.

Annoncering

I phoned up the director of Lunar Mission One, Angela Lamont, to ask her about the mission. Why are we drilling into the moon? How are we going to get there? What are the risks? And is the Kickstarter offering those cool little USB key fobs that Kickstarters always seem to have? How about tote bags?

VICE: Hi Angela. How did you get involved with this project? 
Angela Lamont: I've been quietly involved with it for about two years, although the founder, David Iron, has been planning the project for the past seven years. Although the Kickstarter started yesterday, we had to make sure it was viable both scientifically and in terms of finance. You can't ask someone to sponsor it unless you've worked out what you need and when.

We have technical partners and people who've been involved with Rosetta, but the draw for me is that this is a people's project. Of course, we're also encouraging support from space agencies such as NASA and beyond.

And your project is totally unique, right?
As far as we're aware. A lot of people are talking about going back to the moon with various projects, but ours is very different – we're not just going to the moon, we're drilling deep into the surface to find out about its origins. And we're going to share that knowledge with everybody. It's a non-profit mission and, as Brian Cox put it, it's designed to increase the sum total of human knowledge about the Earth and the moon and the solar system. So of course it's a Kickstarter project. A lot of people said the public weren't ready to get that involved with a space mission, but we launched it yesterday and it blew us away. The comments have been utterly awesome. In just a few hours we got a third of our total.

Annoncering

Do you feel like this outpouring of support is a knock-on effect of the Rosetta comet probe? Like, everyone has remembered about space?
Rosetta was a very long mission, and once they woke it up people became really aware of it. And we had this really rip roaring ride as we all tuned in to see if [Rosetta's lander] Philae would make it down alright. It was an emotional rollercoaster. So we've come along at the right time, and people have said how great it is to be involved from the start. We're reading all the tweets, all the comments. We have the mission goals set, but we're listening to everything our backers are saying, right down to the exclusive club T-shirts.

So what's your plan?
Well, we're not going to be launching it on our own rocket. We're not sure yet if it will be an American solution, or via the European Space Agency – there are options in China, Russia and India, too. One of the things we need to do after this current phase on Kickstarter is evaluate the best options for the launch.

We have narrowed it down. But the next phase will decide. We'll be using already established methods, and once we get there we'll have our own lander, which will have drilling capabilities. We'll land on the south pole of the moon and drill to a minimum of 20 metres, which is ten times further then anything drilled before. And if things go well we'll have the capability to drill to 100 metres. Then we'll have the opportunity to analyse the rock and find out what happened, where the moon was born from and what's it's made from.

Annoncering

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the current idea that something the size of Mars smashed into Earth and created the moon?
Yes. We think it was born around 4 billion years ago in a collision with a Mars-sized object and the Earth, and the moon is the bit that flew off from this collision. So the mission will be a means by which we can look to check our own history and make sure what we know is right. It's very easy to theorise about the moon, so we're going to drill and make sure.

Beyond landing on the moon and drilling a big hole, what else?
Well, we thought, 'Hey, we're drilling a hole here, there's an opportunity.' And – and I don't know if you remember time capsule TV programmes from the past? – but we thought it would be amazing to have an off-world archive of human technology, life and culture. So we're planning to leave one there. And we're inviting those who donate the chance to create his or her own version. So that's the mission!

Is there a plan B for funding, beyond Kickstarter?
Well, we have funding options available for the long term. But we really want people to get involved, and get involved in the long term. If we didn't reach the target, that would be the people saying to us they're not ready, and this isn't the right way to go about doing it. But at the moment [as of today] we're already over £200,000 of our £600,000 aim, with 27 days left. So the public seem to be very much behind us, which is confirming our market research.

Annoncering

We didn't know for sure until we tested out that research, but it's looking amazingly good. I got emotional reading the tweets last night. One person said, "Look guys, I've only donated £60 because that's what I can afford at the moment, but I want you to know that's my first donation. And when I can afford it I'll be donating more." I was getting almost tearful about that.

I'm guessing popping over to the moon isn't the easiest mission – what are the risks?
Well, if you look at Rosetta and Philae, the big challenge was that they had a big, 28-minute lag because they're so far away. Because we're only going to the moon, which is – depending on when we go – between 220,000 and 250,000 miles away, compared to Rosetta that's nothing. It will take us days rather then years to get there. And we can control it all in real time and get pictures back almost in real time. There's always a risk, but we're very fortunate in that we'll be so much nearer to the lander.

Landing on the south pole is great – it's rumoured there's ice there, and the moon is tilted, so we can get tons of sunlight, which is obviously better for power and communications. Philae would still be talking to us if it had sunlight.

Is it possible for people to donate over your goal?
People are already telling us to stretch our target due to the massive enthusiasm out there. With a mission like this, obviously the more money we raise the more things we can do earlier. While we can't increase the length of time for the Kickstarter, it would be great to reach £1,000,000.

Annoncering

Well, with the interest you guys have had, that doesn't seem unrealistic. Is there anything else you'd like to say to people reading?
Well, I'd just like to let people know we're reading every single tweet and every single comment. I want people to know we're very serious. This is a mission for everyone, and we have a whole team listening. Whatever people say and suggest, we are listening. So keep it coming, because we're loving it. Get involved and we'll incorporate whatever we can. We're loving some of the ideas. Someone said we should take a projector and project people's images on to the moon so it looks like they're there themselves. We love that idea, so please, keep them coming!

Thanks, Angela.

Head over to ​the Kickstarter page to pledge money towards the project.

@TBreakwell

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