To mark the fortieth anniversary of the moon landings, Richard Hollingham tells the story of the British MoonLITE project and the lunar ambitions and achievements of the other space-exploring nations.
Forty years ago, there was talk of frequent missions, permanent moon bases and even lunar factories. But still only 12 people have walked on the moon and there have been no soft landings since the 1970s. But all that could soon change.
already, the USA, Europe, China, Japan and India have sent orbiters and there seems to be a rush, if not a race, back to the moon. Leading it, with the first instruments at the lunar poles and far side, could be the UK's MoonLITE mission.
Richard Hollingham discovers how, by using small, low cost components, British space scientists hope to set up a network of instruments to monitor moonquakes and probe the lunar interior and one or more orbiting satellites that could establish communications and navigation systems for other human and robotic missions.
Professor Sir Martin Sweeting of MoonLITE's prime contractor, SSTL, hopes it will be commercial; he likens it to the hoteliers and ironmongers who profited from the Californian gold rush. It will also, he says, give the UK a seat at the table when it comes to selecting international astronauts who might return to the moon.
Richard Hollingham examines British plans for a moon mission.