What would you send to the moon? A precious family heirloom? A lock of hair? For a price, you could send a small object of your choosing on a one-way trip to the lunar surface.
The private spaceflight company Astrobotic is offering people around the world the chance to fly their special item to the lunar surface with a new service called MoonMail. Representatives for Astrobotic — one of the competitors working toward winning the Google Lunar X Prize — are asking that interested Earthlings buy a small capsule that they can fill with keepsakes that will then be transported to the moon during the company's first lunar mission. The company is planning to launch its first mission sometime in the next two years.
"Today marks the beginning of a new kind of participant on the moon: the individual," Astrobotic CEO John Thornton said during a press call announcing the project today (Dec. 11). "MoonMail is a new offering allowing anyone in the world to purchase space on our lander and immortalize their important keepsake on the moon forever." [The Future of Moon Exploration Explained (Infographic)]
The moon capsules don't exactly come cheap, but they could make a good holiday gift for the right space fan. The smallest container, which measures 0.5 inches across (1.3 centimeters), costs $460, and a 0.75-inch-wide (1.9 cm) capsule costs $820. A 1-inch (2.5 cm) capsule costs $1,660. Prices increase depending on the height chosen for the container.
A lucky person interested in MoonMail could also win a free capsule, thanks to an Astrobotic contest. Company representatives are asking that people submit their best ideas for what they want to send to the moon by Dec. 23 to be entered into a contest to win a free container that will fly to the lunar surface. Representatives will select their favorite, most meaningful idea as the winner. Enter the contest by Dec. 23 for a chance to win.
Astrobotic is planning on loading hundreds to thousands of these purchased capsules onto its first moon probe, Thornton said. Those capsules will remain attached to Astrobotic's lander after it touches down in an area called Lacus Mortis, a part of the moon with interesting cave formations, Thornton added.
Astrobotic will screen the items to make sure they aren't potentially harmful to the spacecraft and its mission. Representatives working with Moon Mail will also take cultural sensitivities into account before anything is sent to the lunar surface, Thornton said.
"Astrobotic's MoonMail continues the recent and growing trend of commercial opportunities inviting not just governments, companies and organizations to take part in spaceflight, but individuals, too," said Robert Pearlman, editor of collectSPACE.com, a leading resource for space history enthusiasts and a Space.com media partner. "From taking 'space selfies' to flying names, DNA and now mementos, these projects point to a future where space exploration is an activity involving the masses."
The main goal of Astrobotic's first mission will be to win the Google Lunar X Prize, worth up to $30 million. In order to win the grand prize, a team has to be the first to land a probe on the moon, move 1,640 feet (500 meters) on the lunar surface and beam back various kinds of data, including images, from the natural satellite.
The multimillion-dollar prize is designed to create an economy around the commercial utilization of the moon, representatives with the X Prize organization have said.
Thornton imagines that the Google Lunar X Prize competition could be like "NASCAR on the moon." He is hoping that some fraction of the 18 teams still competing for the grand prize will get to the moon on the same rocket and race to complete the tasks while people watch it happen from Earth.
"These are rovers from different nations, different X Prize teams, and we'll be competing for the biggest prize ever, streaming live from the moon," Thornton told Space.com in July. "You can see these HD videos coming back as the competition is unfolding, as other countries are competing with our rover."
Learn more about MoonMail and how to enter the contest here: https://www.astrobotic.com/moon-mail