Lunar Mission One, a new British-led Moon landing concept, is a welcome reminder that we are most definitely living in the future. This not-for-profit "lunar mission for everyone" has been grabbing international headlines in the wake of its Kickstarter launch, which has already raised well over 20 percent of its initial £600,000 goal.
Lunar Mission One's Kickstarter video. Credit: Lunar Missions Ltd
"Lunar Mission One is the most inspirational lunar project since the Apollo landings and your chance to reserve your place in space," proclaim the project's directors on Kickstarter. "Don't just follow space exploration—be a part of it."
The objective of the mission is to land a drilling module on the Moon's South Pole, which hasn't yet been robotically explored, in 2024. The module will then drill at least 20 meters (65 feet) into the Moon's surface, ten times deeper than previous missions, to better understand its subterranean geology of our only natural satellite.
But what the mission's founders, led by space advocate David Iron, plan to put into the holes they drill is just as interesting as what will come out of it. Kickstarter backers who contribute £60 or more will receive a "Digital Memory Box," to be launched with the mission in ten years.
"You will be able to upload whatever digital information you want: a personal message, a photo, a family tree, a poem, a video, your favourite song…the choice is yours!" claims the Kickstarter page. "Millions of individual memory boxes, belonging to people all over the world, will make up the private archive—to be buried deep inside the Moon as part of Lunar Mission One."
Backers also have the option to send a strand of their hair to be deposited on the Moon, an appealing prospect to those who would like to see their DNA travel off-Earth. And on top of that, Lunar Mission One plans to install a public archive of information alongside the memory boxes, which would store information about germaine topics such as the history of humanity or Earth's biodiversity.
So to recap, here we have a publicly funded lunar drilling mission that also deposits personal and public time capsules that are expected to survive for about a billion years. That's about as "utopian futurist" as a project can get.
It's also part of a larger movement to harness the obvious public enthusiasm for space exploration, and channel it into a third sphere of spaceflight research, beyond governmental and corporate juggernauts like NASA or SpaceX. Kickstarter has already enabled several projects like this to come to fruition, most notably the ARKYD space telescope, which exceeded its $1,000,000 dollar funding goal last year.
Whether Lunar Mission One will be able to deliver on its ambitious agenda is anyone's guess at the moment, but it's looking likely that it will at least succeed in its first Kickstarter. If the campaign reaches its £600,000 goal before December 17, the funds will be used to start active program planning.
A spokesperson for the mission told me that the Lunar Mission One directors are open to using to Kickstarter to raise further funds, but that their primary plan is to sell the memory boxes directly to customers through distributors like Amazon.
According to the spokesperson, the company thinks about £3,000,000,000 (yes, that's three billion pounds) could be raised this way. That would be more than enough to cover Lunar Mission One, and perhaps even provide seed money for another public mission to follow it.
£3,000,000,000 seems like a very optimistic number, and buying personal real estate in space has a notably shady history. Lunar Mission One's ability to make good on its claims remains to be seen, which puts it in a similar category to the quixotic Mars One.
But one thing is certain: the early success of Lunar Mission One's Kickstarter campaign is a clear sign that space exploration is more popular than ever in 2014. We're landing on comets, approaching interstellar space, and closing in on the launch of the coolest telescope ever. With that in mind, a crowdfunded lunar mission filled with human hair doesn't seem that crazy.