New Space Mission: Leave a Time Capsule on the Moon

Stefan Holm/Shutterstock.com

Lunar Mission One will launch in 2024—if enough backers fund the project on Kickstarter.

A decade from now, if all goes well, a spacecraft with a high-tech drill will land in the South Pole-Aitken basin of the moon. There, it will bore 66 feet down into the surface and collect samples of the mantle to bring back to Earth.

But before it leaves, it'll deposit a two-part time capsule: a public part, full of Earth's history, and a private part, full of "digital memory boxes" created by individuals. These memory boxes can hold digital files—records of family trees, videos, selfies even—or actual DNA in the form of human hair. Not everyone can have a digital memory box, though. The boxes are only delivered on behalf of the people who fund the mission on Kickstarter.

The project, called Lunar Mission One and conceived of by British scientists seven years ago, has already taken off on the crowdfunding site, raising more than half of its £600,000 (about $1 million) goal since its launch just a few days ago, on November 19. The founders think that success is thanks to the appeal of both exploring the lunar surface and leaving a time capsule behind.

"It creates emotional significance and it tickles people's fancy. It's an emotional thing," David Iron, the founder of the Lunar Missions Trust, the nonprofit behind the project, tells me.

Lunar Mission One certainly comes at a sentimental time when people are looking back toward the stars. Consider the success of the European Space Agency's Rosetta and the Philae Lander. The mission was a technical feat, but it was also an emotional one, bringing the thrill of knowing something humans built on Earth reached something else in space.

And after all, humans love blasting pieces of themselves—both digital and literal—into space. In 2012, an aerospace company flew science projects carried inside ping pong balls out past the exosphere. The Time Capsule to Mars mission is seeking to bring digital recorded messages to the Red Planet. And space burial is already a thing (only for pets at the moment, but it's really only a matter of time before human ashes will make the trip).

Still, it does seem risky for a backer to donate £60 (about $100) to reserve a digital memory box for a project that won't come to fruition until 2024, if at all. What if the project never takes off after it's funded? What if the technology isn't sophisticated enough? What if those digital memory boxes disintegrate on the moon's surface? And how will anybody ever even know if that happens?

Ian Crawford, a professor of planetary sciences at Birkbeck College in London and a scientific advisor to the mission, tells me not to worry. The plan to leave a time capsule on the moon isn't really about physically leaving something on the moon—it's more an opportunity to encourage people's interest in space.

"I think about the time capsule in a slightly broader way," he says. "There is a lot of educational value in getting people to think about astronomically long time scales and our place in the universe."

Of course, astronauts have landed on the moon several times before. Yet, despite the six Apollo missions that have landed on Earth's closest celestial neighbor, there's still a lot scientists don't know about the moon.

"The lunar surface contains an important scientific history... The time has come to get back to the surface."

Crawford explains that all Apollo missions explored near the moon's equator. The Lunar Mission One will break the pattern by landing in the South Pole-Aitken basin, a deep crater that may for the first time unveil fragments of the moon's interior.

"The lunar surface contains an important scientific history of the moon, of the Earth, and of the inner solar system," Crawford says. "The time has come to get back to the surface and to bring samples back from places the Apollo missions didn't go to."

As the project moves forward, it aims to find supporters from around the globe. The technology for the drill will likely come from the U.S., where the first prototypes for moon-drilling technology were developed, Crawford says. "It's not possible to guarantee success," he admits, "but what is possible to guarantee is to develop extraterrestrial drilling technology that will be enormously helpful to exploring other places and for exploring below the surfaces of other planets."

"Some people say it's not worth it, and that's fine," Iron adds. "But there is an increase in interest in space exploration. What we do is we turn interest into a learning experience, a campaign to learn about science and space and the planet." And those who think it's not worth it, or have no interest in their DNA being buried on the moon, simply don't have to donate to the Kickstarter.

NEXT STORY: Infographic: NASA's Next Rocket

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.