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 peopleare 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.