In the future, the moon could be used for launching interplanetary space exploration missions
In the future, the moon could be used for launching interplanetary space exploration missionsLunar Missions Ltd

You may have heard the news today that a British-led consortium backed by lots of well-known scientists wants to launch the first ever crowdfunded space mission, and that members of the public will be able to send digital memories and even human DNA in the form of a strand of hair to the moon.

However, one of the most exciting aspects of this space mission is not so much that DNA or drilling robots will be going to the moon, but more what the scientists hope to achieve once they get there.

"In the future, it will probably be better to launch planetary missions from the moon than the Earth," Lunar Missions Ltd and Lunar Missions Trust founder David Iron tells IBTimes UK.

"We can use the top layer of the moon to create fuel and oxygen and water to help sustain a permanent manned lunar base at the south pole of the moon, [while] the moon and its vicinity can be used as a stepping point to help launch interplanetary missions."

Iron is a former engineer with the Royal Navy who has 25 years' experience in working to finance high tech projects, with the last 16 years spent financing projects in the space sector.

In fact, he created the commercial and financial structure for Skynet 5 in 2004, the first ever international space public-private partnership (PPP) for military satellite communications, where governments, space agencies and aerospace companies worked together to fund the programme.

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Through his work with numerous firms in the aerospace industry as well as several space agencies including Nasa and the European Space Agency (ESA), Iron realised seven years ago that crowdfunding might be the way to go, due to the exorbitant costs of space missions.

"Space agencies often struggle to get enough money to fund explorations, and rather than a small number of space agencies spending a lot of money, we're talking about turning that around and getting a large number of people to spend a small amount of money, although we didn't call it crowdfunding at the time," he says.

Although it has taken several years to pull together and many universities now go online to crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo to fund their research in many scientific fields, including space, Lunar Mission One is much more than just a crowdfunded project in the conventional sense.

"This is a major space mission. The whole project is too big for crowdfunding websites and needs a bespoke marketing and sales team. We're just using crowdfunding to kick the thing off," he says.

"The important thing is that this is a science exploration mission. We're going to be drilling much deeper than before to analyse lunar rock that dates back up to 4.5 billion years ago.

"That will tell us much more than we know today about the history of the solar system and the formation of the moon and the earth, around the time that life first formed on earth."

The money and how it will be spent

There will in fact be three stages of funding for Lunar Mission One – a Kickstarter campaign, a reservation service for individuals or companies that want to store information on the moon, and a global marketing campaign.

For the next month, the Kickstarter campaign will run online with the goal of gaining $1m (£600,000). In the two days that the campaign has been live, it has so far received £139,017 from 1,450 backers and is growing by the minute.

Capsules of digital memories will be carefully buried in the holes drilled by the spacecraft during its sample-gathering
Capsules of digital memories will be carefully buried in holes drilled into the lunar surface by the spacecraft during its sample-gatheringLunar Missions Ltd

After that, over the next few years, private individuals or companies will be able to reserve a digital memory box, and the mission hopes to raise tens of millions of dollars in funding from that.

Then, in five years' time, a large sales and marketing campaign will be launched to sell more digital space, and the mission hopes that the sales from this will accumulate with all the other funding to a total amount that is in excess of a billion dollars.

So how will the money be spent? Iron says that the funds from the project will enable the entire global aerospace industry to work together.

"The biggest amount of money will go to an industrial consortium to manage the mission. Space agencies will provide authority but not management, and aerospace companies can bid for various parts of the job or form consortiums to compete for the main mission contract," explains Iron.

"It is possible to get greater efficiencies for the mission by getting commercial management in, plus commercial generation of revenues."

The remaining money will go into a "Wellcome Trust for space" fund that space agencies can turn to when they fall short on funding for their projects.

"This is a UK idea, but it's a global mission. We think half of the revenues contributed will be American. The Chinese might pick this up in large numbers too, but we also want to enable smaller, poorer countries to take part," he says.

Public domain memories of Earth will be stored for free

Weight-wise, taking the data to space is actually quite a small aspect of the eventual Lunar Mission One.

The spacecraft will weigh a tonne, but the payload for the total digital memories is only 10kg in weight, whereas the drilling equipment payload and the science equipment payload will each weigh 30-50kg.

A 3D animation of how Lunar Mission One will look when it lands on the moon
A 3D animation of how Lunar Mission One will look when it lands on the moonLunar Missions Ltd

The digital memories will be broken up into two parts – private memories and public domain information about Earth, which includes the history of mankind and the origins of civilisation, as well as a biosphere (a scientific description of life on Earth) and descriptions of human culture and life on Earth.

While universities and institutions around the world will contribute the historical and scientific information, the creators of Lunar Mission One want members of the public and school children to get involved and contribute information about their lives and perceptions of Earth for free to go into the public domain part of the digital memories.

But who's going to be looking at all this information? Is it so that alien life forms can learn about us in the future?

"Who knows? We the mission don't worry about what information goes into Lunar Mission One, we just want to deliver it. It's up to [the world] to decide what to do," says Iron.

"All we're saying is that you've got an opportunity to store this information on a geological timescale of up to a billion years. It's the ultimate time capsule."