UCL News


Accessing the lunar archive: why humans must return to the Moon

10 December 2004

British kids' dreams of becoming an astronaut could be given a boost as academics gather today to discuss the benefits of the UK participating in the European Space Agency's (ESA) Human Spaceflight programme.

During the one day discussion, which will be hosted by the Royal Astronomical Society to launch its review of the scientific case for human spaceflight, it will be argued that the UK should reconsider its decision to focus solely on robotic missions. With the Bush administration's plans to send humans back to the Moon and to Mars, experts will set out why the UK should participate in the human spaceflight elements of ESA's Aurora programme.

Among the speakers from the UK , ESA and NASA will be UCL's Dr Ian Crawford of the Department of Earth Science and Dr Kevin Fong of the Department of Physiology.

In a talk titled 'The next small step' Dr Fong will set out how human space flight can expand our knowledge not only of planetary sciences but of fundamental physiology.

"Zero gravity conditions provide a unique opportunity to study how bone and muscle physiology, which have evolved to support gravitational load, are affected," says Dr Fong.

"If we are to embark on a mission to Mars the key science goal isn't just about what we will learn when we get to our destination but to overcome the physiological problems that will allow humans to undertake such a  long journey in a weightless environment."

The final presentation, 'Towards an integrated scientific and social case for human space exploration', will be delivered by Dr Crawford, who is the main organiser the meeting. Dr Crawford will discuss his research in lunar geology and why humans must return to the Moon.

"The Apollo missions laid the foundation of our understanding of the solar system - but we really only scrapped the surface. Thirty years on from when the last astronauts left the Moon's surface we must return," says Dr Crawford.

"The Moon is uniquely important because it's a small body that stopped being geologically active thousands of millions of years ago - effectively it's frozen in time. Unlike the Earth or other planets in the solar system it still has the first crust from when it formed, so the age of the lunar surface is a record of both crust formation and what was happening in the near-Earth environment 4.6 billion years ago. This was a crucial period, which saw the origin of life on our planet yet we have lost that record because of weathering and tectonic plate movement. On the Moon we may also detect preserved samples of ancient solar wind, and meteorites blasted of the early Earth and other terrestrial planets which may contain information on the origin and evolution of life.

"All six Apollo landing sites were on the near side of the Moon so we have no samples of the lunar landscape on the far side or polar regions. Remote sensing from orbit has shown the geology of the land sites differs greatly from other regions and the abundance of elements isn't typical of the lunar crust.

"Microrovers would be relatively cheap to land on the Moon, which is doubtlessly an attraction, but they would not be able to conduct the array of research humans can, such as bringing back 10 times their own mass in rocks and soil samples. Much of what we want to know about the moon is buried so we need to drill to depths of up to two metres and robots aren't capable of this kind of complex geological exploration.

"Fairly soon a decision will be required concerning the direction of human space flight.  UCL has made a significant contribution to robotic missions such as Smart, Swift, Rosetta and Cassini but much can be learnt from the interdisciplinary research only possible with human space exploration."

Full details and abstracts of the talks, can be found at:



Notes to editors

For further information please contact:

Judith H Moore, UCL Media Relations office, Tel: 07917 271 364, email: Judith.moore@ucl.ac.uk