"I'm interested in composing a new song," legendary astronaut Buzz Aldrin told Reddit over the summer, "entitled 'Get your ass to Mars!'"
It was Aldrin's jokey way of underscoring the idea that travel to the moon—while awe-inspiring—has already been checked off humanity's to-do list. Mars, he said, is the next great frontier for scientists and space romantics.
Humans can't seem to leave the moon alone. People have bombed it and branded it. And in the four decades since the last man to walk on the moon headed back home, we never even cleaned up after ourselves. Space explorers left 400,000 pounds of debris up there—that includes spacecraft wreckage, shovels, golf balls, TV cameras, 12 pairs of boots, and astronaut urine.
Now, Pittsburgh robotics firm Astrobiotic Technology is offering to send more of people's old junk to our celestial neighbor.
Astrobiotic's new MoonMail service means you can send keepsakes—like a class ring, dog tags, a lock of hair, or a baby's thumbprint—to the moon so that, as the company puts it, "life's most meaningful moments can be forever linked with the Moon in the night sky." It almost sounds sweet—and reminiscent of the Japanese energy drink company that recently wanted to send children's dreams to the moon—until you get to the part of Astrobiotic's website that boldly challenges you to "buy space," "use space," and "master space."
Which raises the question: Is space really humanity's for the taking? Exploring, sure. But a lunar storage unit seems a little gauche, if not outright ridiculous. It's certainly gimmicky, and that's what Astrobiotic is banking on. The money it raises through MoonMail is meant to fund the rocket launch so that it might win a $20 million Google-sponsored space contest, the AP explained. The tiniest keepsakes, smaller than a dime, can be sent to the moon in a $460 hexagonal capsule. Sending something the size of a quarter costs about $1,600. Sending something heavier than two pounds will run you more than $1 million.
For those who aren't priced out, there are some other caveats. You can't send weapons or liquids or perishable objects to the moon. And there's obviously no guarantee that your object will get there in the first place. According to the MoonMail's terms and conditions, "Astrobiotic reserves the right to cancel or postpone the MoonMail™ Mission as it deems necessary."
If MoonMail does complete its mission, the trinkets people leave there could stay on the lunar surface for a while, for "centuries to come," Astrobiotic says. But objects on the moon face extreme conditions, as scientists know from having recovered items that spent more than two years there in the late 1960s.
"From that, we learned that depending on the chemistry, some materials fade and some darken," NASA materials engineer Miria Finckenor told me in an email via a spokesperson. "Plastics crack and weaken due to radiation and the temperature swings (going in and out of sunlight). All surfaces would be pitted by micrometeoroid impacts and coated with lunar dust... anything organic tends to break down, so I don’t think it would hold up for long."