How a Kickstarter project could bury your hair on the moon

The British nonprofit venture Lunar Mission One, which seeks to explore the moon's south pole, has come up with a novel way to solicit donations for its mission.

Even when a donation benefits scientific research, a potential giver might still need an incentive.

That’s why the London-based nonprofit Lunar Mission One aims to bring potential Kickstarter donors — or, at least their DNA — to the moon.

The venture announced today that it plans to land on the Moon’s south pole in the next decade. Its first fundraising benchmark is £600,000, or $950,000, which it aims to hit in the next four weeks.

Like other crowdfunding campaigns, Lunar Mission One has different stages of involvement for potential contributors.

For £60, donors can reserve a memory box to bury deep within the moon. The campaign suggests planting a strand of hair in the box, with which they could attach digital identifiers, like a text message or video (for an extra charge). More generous donors will reap perhaps more meaningful perks — those who give £3,000, for example, will have their names inscribed on the lunar landing module.

The mission is more than just a time capsule. The lunar south pole is of particular interest to scientist because it might harbor ice in some of its perpetually shadowed craters. Lunar Mission One plans to drill least 20 meters into the lunar rock, to better understand the moon's composition. 

After its launch today, almost 1,500 backers have pledged more than £140,000 so far, bringing the project nearly a quarter of the way to its goal. Seven people have pledged £5,000 or more, which earns them a place in the mission control viewing gallery to watch the spacecraft landing.

While the method of financing this space travel seems strange, it’s not unique. Objective Europa aims to put a submarine on Jupiter's fourth-largest moon, which is thought to have liquid water trapped beneath its icy surface. In 2013, its annual crowd-sourced budget totaled $400,000.

And a Cornell University alum successfully used Kickstarter to launch tiny spacecraft into low Earth orbit, meeting its $30,000 goal in December 2011 (today, nearly $75,000 has been pledged). 

These missions, traditionally the sole province of large nation states, are seeking donations as traditional space agencies are seeing their funding decline. For instance, last year NASA’s finances dropped below 0.5 percent of the federal budget for the first time since 1960. By comparison, at its peak NASA commanded 4.4 percent of the federal budget in 1966.

Even if it meets its £600,000 goal, Lunar Mission One has a long way to go: Successfully landing an unmanned spacecraft on the moon has historically tended to cost, at minimum, a few hundred million dollars. Still, the benefits of such a mission could be far-reaching, to say the least, particularly if, in the distant future, archaeologists digging on the moon happen upon a sealed capsule containing thousands of strands of hair from an ancient spacefaring ape species. Who’s to say that Kickstarter won't be the ones to forever preserve the human race?

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