RAS public lecture, 12th April 2016
by Professor Ian Crawford (Birkbeck)
It is now over 40 years since the last Apollo astronauts left the surface of the Moon, and for most of that time the lunar surface has been left undisturbed. However, continued analysis of the Apollo samples, and more recent measurements made by lunar orbiting spacecraft, have confirmed that the lunar geological record still has much to tell us about the earliest history of the Solar System, the origin of the Earth and Moon, and the geological evolution of rocky planets. There is broad agreement that further advances in these areas will require an end to the 40-year hiatus of lunar surface exploration, and the placing of new scientific instruments on, and the return of additional samples from, the surface of the Moon. For these reasons several space agencies around the world are actively planning a return to the lunar surface, initially with robots but eventually with astronauts. In addition these government-led activities, there is also increasing interest in non-governmental projects to land spacecraft on the Moon, such as the crowd-funded Lunar Mission One and the various proposals entered into the Google Lunar X-Prize competition. This talk will give a brief summary of the history of lunar exploration to-date, and outline the scientific objectives of lunar missions planned for he future. I will argue that while some of these scientific objectives can be achieved robotically, in the longer term most would benefit significantly from renewed human operations on the lunar surface.