MOONS is a new Multi-Object Optical and Near-infrared Spectrograph selected by ESO as a third generation instrument for the Very Large Telescope (VLT). The grasp of the large collecting area offered by the VLT (8.2m diameter), combined with the large multiplex and wavelength coverage (optical to near-IR: 0.8μm - 1.8μm) of MOONS will provide the European astronomical community with a powerful, unique instrument able to pioneer a wide range of Galactic, Extragalactic and Cosmological studies and provide crucial follow-up for major facilities such as Gaia, VISTA, Euclid and LSST. MOONS has the observational power needed to unveil galaxy formation and evolution over the entire history of the Universe, from stars in our Milky Way, through the redshift desert, and up to the epoch of very first galaxies and re-ionization of the Universe at redshift z>8-9, just few million years after the Big Bang. On a timescale of 5 years of observations, MOONS will provide high quality spectra for >3M stars in our Galaxy and the local group, and for 1-2M galaxies at z>1 (SDSS-like survey), promising to revolutionise our understanding of the Universe. The baseline design consists of ∼1000 fibers deployable over a field of view of ∼500 square arcmin, the largest patrol field offered by the Nasmyth focus at the VLT. The total wavelength coverage is 0.8μm-1.8μm and two resolution modes: medium resolution and high resolution. In the medium resolution mode (R∼4,000-6,000) the entire wavelength range 0.8μm-1.8μm is observed simultaneously, while the high resolution mode covers simultaneously three selected spectral regions: one around the CaII triplet (at R∼8,000) to measure radial velocities, and two regions at R∼20,000 one in the J-band and one in the H-band, for detailed measurements of chemical abundances.