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UK plots first Moonshot

Pillinger: don't call us, etc.

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Updated Britain's first Moon mission is being considered for funding by the government's Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council.

A proposal from space technology firm Surrey Satellite Technology would see an orbiter sent to our nearest neighbour around 2010, the BBC reports.

The orbiter, dubbed Moonlight, would release four suitcase-sized probes to pile 2m into the suface at about 400mph and measure seismic activity, and other goings-on in the Moon's sub-surface.

Dr Andrew Coates of the Mullard Space Science Lab at University College London, which contributed to the proposal, said: "Previous missions have focused on the side of the Moon that faces the Earth. Our plan with Moonlight is for the first time is to explore the mysterious far side of the Moon as well."

The team hope a low-cost lunar mission would be a testing ground for instruments planned for forthcoming Mars exploration.

The proposal's author Sir Martin Sweeting estimates a bigger role in the new Space Race could cost Britain as little as €400m. He said: "In the UK, we have tremendous expertise in this area. A UK Moon programme would enable us to get a foothold in what could turn out to be an economically important area for a relatively low cost."

A successful Moonlight would be followed by the Moonraker lander, which would seek to identify potential sites for human habitation on the Moon's surface. NASA has said it intends to begin colonising around 2020. ®

Update

Several readers have written to point out that, contrary to our subhead, Britain's favourite interplanetary wurzel and Beagler Sir Colin "where's my probe?" Pillinger is in fact the ideal chief for a plan to crash high technology into non-Earth rocks. And, in keeping with Moonlight's low cost ethos, he'd probably do it for six flagons of rough cyder.

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