Britain, U.S. Mull Joint Moon Mission

British and U.S. scientists said Friday they were exploring plans for a joint lunar mission that would use an orbiter to fire missile-like penetrators into the moon's surface.

The Moon Lightweight Interior and Telecoms Experiment, or MoonLITE, would put a satellite into orbit around the moon.

Three or four projectiles packed with scientific instruments would then be fired and embed just below the lunar surface, the British National Space Center and NASA said in a statement.

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The scientists said MoonLITE could deliver important information about the moon's structure, such as the size of the lunar core and the source of lunar seismic activity.

The mission would also provide an opportunity to test the space communications network needed for future robotic or human explorers.

NASA and the British space center said more study and a definitive cost estimate were needed before making a decision on whether to proceed with the proposed mission.

The statement came a day after the government's space minister, Ian Pearson, said officials were reconsidering a 1986 decision for Britain not to pursue its own manned space flights.

Britain doesn't want to be left out of an "international wave of new space exploration in the next 10 to 20 years," Pearson said while announcing plans for a new space research center to be built near Oxford.

He said a review of manned spaceflight options would come out either this year or next, and in the meantime Britain would likely remain focused on robotic space exploration.