These Crypto Companies Want to ‘Commoditize’ the Moon

Space Outpost’s MAPP lunar rover is scheduled to go to space in November of this year as a payload on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Image: Lunar Outpost

By Kyle Barr,
Published by Gizmodo, 27 March 2023

Lunar Outpost will engrave a crypto wallet passcode on its MAPP Lunar Rover that’s supposed to land on the Moon’s south pole this year.

One company is calling on all crypto pirates to sail more than 200,000 miles to the lunar surface to recover a bitcoin booty left on the Moon. The advertised 62 bitcoin, with a stated worth of $1.5 million, will remain stranded on the lunar south pole after a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket delivers it to space later this year. After 14 days—a single lunar day—it will sit there, waiting for any intrepid crypto bro to show up and claim the prize. Good thing the crypto obsessed are already very used to holding their breath.

LunarCrush, a site that offers spot information on the crypto market, announced Monday it was engraving the passcode to a crypto wallet on the Mobile Autonomous Prospecting Platform, or MAPP Lunar Rover, developed by Lunar Outpost.

This rover is being advertised as the “first debuted commercial lunar resource prospector.” It’s part of the $14.1 million Tipping Point mission offered to Nokia in 2020 to lay out the first 4G communications system in space. The rover is supposed to deploy later this year from Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C lander near the lunar south pole. Two Nova-C landings are planned in 2023, IM-1 and IM-2, with LunarCrush participating in the second.

Other than introducing crypto to any wayward aliens, the first job of the IM-2 mission is to test out how well wireless data transmissions work on the Moon’s south pole. After its mission is complete, the rover will remain stranded for whomever next comes across it. This is before NASA plans to launch its own rover on the Moon’s South Pole next year.

According to LunarCrush, the passcode will link to a wallet that will contain 62 bitcoin, which as of Monday afternoon was worth around $1.67 million. Of course, the price of bitcoin fluctuates heavily from week to week, so by the time the Falcon 9 takes off sometime in June, it could be worth much more or much less. It may take many, many more years before crypto bros can plant their own flag on the lunar surface, so who knows what people will be willing to spend for a single bitcoin by then.

This bitcoin bounty is being called “Nakamoto_1” after the presumed pseudonym of the person who created bitcoin back in 2008. Still, it’s not like LunarCrush has that money on hand. The company said it is asking for donations and is selling an NFT collection to raise funds for the bounty.

Just 25% of the non-fungible token sales will go to funding the bitcoin bounty, while another 25% will go to funding “bitcoin core development and STEM education-related causes.” Gizmodo confirmed with Lunar Outpost that the remaining 50% will go to the “partners who have been building this project.” There will be 24,000 NFTs going up for sale and each will be initially priced at $250 set to drop on Tuesday.

The private key will be engraved into a small piece of metal on the MAPP rover that needs to be unbolted to read. Considering that the rover itself is only the size of a microwave, the engraving should be reasonably easy to spot. Unbolting it from the rover, well, that presents another challenge altogether.

Lunar Outpost has been advertising sponsorship and marketing opportunities as well as physical payload space for its upcoming lunar lander. It’s working with Copernic Space, a self-declared “web3 marketplace for space assets and investments” to sell non-fungible tokens on its so-called “tokenized payload space.” These “space assets” are being represented as tradable NFTs used to “commoditize a piece of space.”

In the release, LunarCrush CEO Joe Vezzani said the point of the crypto bounty was to make an “unachievable goal” that would force more space innovation. Similarly, Lunar Outpost co-founder Forrest Meyen also agreed this marketing structure “incentivizes exploration” and unlocks “the best of human ingenuity.”

Vezzani said his companies envision “classrooms, groups, companies, and even DAOs (decentralized autonomous organizations) coming together to reach the Moon and split the treasure chest’s rewards. It’s like Willy Wonka’s golden ticket.” Vezzani told The Block that he didn’t expect it will take too long before people find ways to make commercial moon tours viable.

Why do we need crypto in space?

Crypto companies have tried to invade every known inch of physical real estate, from sports stadiums to ad space in midtown New York City. Now the crypto-obsessed think the best way to get people excited to return to the Moon is with Scrooge McDuck-levels of greed.

It’s not the first time crypto has tried to dump bitcoin on the Moon. Long-hurting crypto trading company BitMEX tried a similar scheme back in 2021. BitMEX promoted it was putting in a wallet with a single bitcoin aboard Astrobotic’s delayed Peregrine lunar lander launch scheduled for later this year. We reached out to Astrobotic to see if that payload will remain on the Peregrine, but we did not immediately hear back. If anything, these projects emblemize the worst excesses of space commercialization. There’s no way to tell what the price of bitcoin will be in several years, let alone the decades it might take before regular folks have any kind of opportunity to actually reach the Moon.

So is this just another big crypto promotion? Of course. The phrase “to the Moon” has been an inside joke within the crypto community for years to convince more folks of the inevitable crypto boom cycle. But the idea of incentivizing innovation via a crypto bounty seems all the more ludicrous when you consider the costs of actually getting into space, let alone going to the Moon. There are plenty of companies promising space tourism, but most of them advertise tickets to high altitudes or low-Earth orbit—destinations nowhere near the Moon. And that’s not even considering the price. One New Shepard ticket from Blue Origin reportedly sold for $28 million back in 2021.

Sure, pricing will get cheaper as time goes on, but considering how many years it took to get us to shuttling non-humans into low Earth orbit and how it’s so far been pitched as a tour option for the uber-wealthy, how long will we have to wait before one of these supposed “classrooms” or “groups” be able to afford a ticket to the lunar surface. NASA previously estimated the cost of its Artemis program would be between $20 to $30 billion through 2024 in its efforts to put people back on the moon. NASA is now targeting 2025 for the Artemis 3 launch to land a crew in the south polar region. Potentially, these astronauts may be the first to recover the MAPP rover, if any one of them actually has any interest in crypto. In reality, they’ll likely land nowhere near MAPP.

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy imparted his famous speech on the United States’ efforts to land on the moon. So imagine that, instead of his famous address about communal hope and civic duty, he said: “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because we can dive into that sweet, sweet crypto.”

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