It could be the plot of a science fiction novel: a mission to find water on the moon, paving the way for man to settle on its surface.
But by 2018 a mission which includes British technology hopes to have landed a robot probe on the surface of the Moon to find out if it has ice present under the surface.
Finding ice would upend scientific orthodoxy and the results of previous lunar missions, which suggested that the Moon was dry.
The £500 million voyage, scheduled for 2018, is being planned by the European Space Agency, of which Britain is a leading member.
It will also be man’s first attempt at landing an object on the south pole of the Moon.
Dr Simon Sheridan, a research fellow at the Open University who is part of the team designing instruments for the spacecraft, said: “We want to see if the resources are there to let astronauts live off the land.
“There is evidence of vast deposits of volatile chemicals like water from orbiting missions, but this will be the first ground-based mission to look in a polar region.”
The Lunar Lander, the size of a car and weighing about 1,800lbs, will blast off from Earth by rocket, then detach and descend to the Moon’s surface in a 12-minute flight.