The astrobiological case for renewed robotic and human exploration of the Moon
An ambitious programme of lunar exploration will reveal much of astrobiological interest. Examples include: (i) better characterization of the impact cratering rate in the Earth–Moon system, with implications for understanding the possible ‘impact frustration’ of the origin of life; (ii) preservation of ancient meteorites blasted off Earth, Mars and Venus, which may preserve evidence of the early surface environments of these planets, as well as constraining models of lithopanspermia; (iii) preservation of samples of the Earth's early atmosphere not otherwise available; (iv) preservation of cometary volatiles and organics in permanently shadowed polar craters, which would help elucidate the importance of these sources in ‘seeding’ the terrestrial planets with pre-biotic materials; and (v) possible preservation of extraterrestrial artefacts on the lunar surface, which may permit limits to be placed on the prevalence of technological civilizations in the Galaxy. Much of this valuable information is likely to be buried below the present surface (e.g. in palaeoregolith deposits) and will require a considerable amount of geological fieldwork to retrieve. This would be greatly facilitated by a renewed human presence on the Moon, and may be wholly impractical otherwise. In the longer term, such lunar operations would pave the way for the human exploration of Mars, which may also be expected to yield astrobiological discoveries not otherwise obtainable.(Published Online August 30 2006)
(Received June 26 2006)
(Accepted July 6 2006)
Key Words: astrobiology; human spaceflight; lunar exploration.