Why haven't we been back to the Moon?
While paraded as a triumph of discovery and exploration for all mankind, the truth is that the Moon landing was a product of the Cold War and an effort to beat the Soviets in space superiority. This explains the cancellation of the later landings and the fact that a scientist didn't set foot on the Moon until the last landing. The United States had won and quietly returned home. Clearly, real incentive is needed for monumental undertakings such as human exploration of space beyond Earth.
What about private industry?
Despite many efforts, the sheer capital needed to reach the Moon has proven largely prohibitive not to mention the huge risk involved. There needs to be incentive, which brings with it competition.
How can we spark a 2nd race?
For the United States, it was an international arms race. For private industry, there must be a financial incentive. Fortunately, several companies are on the verge of monetizing missions to the Moon. Most of these companies formed thanks to the Google Lunar X Prize, a contest with a reward of $20 million for the first private company to put a rover on the Moon.
Do incentive competitions really work?
Absolutely. The Google Lunar X Prize has already shown that rewards can incentivize space exploration and these companies aren't just in it for the prize. The risk of losing to the competition means many of these teams built their rover on a viable business model independent of the contest. Competition also adds a level of excitement and drives innovation forward much faster than an environment without pressure.
Incentive competitions have historically seen returns of 16 to 1, meaning that for every dollar offered as reward $16 is spent on research and development.
What about human space exploration?
An incentive competition can work just as well for encouraging human exploration as it has for rovers. Just like the Google Lunar X Prize, a prize for human space exploration would not only rapidly return humanity to the Moon but keep us there, since companies would have to have viable underlying business models.
How will we get the prize money to the Moon?
By sending a cryptographic key to the Moon, all funds will be trapped on the lunar surface until recovered by a future explorer. Until then, a global fundraising campaign will allow anyone around the world to donate to the prize money, which can only be claimed by retrieving the key from the lunar surface.
Why is crowdfunding important?
Allowing anyone in the world to contribute makes this a truly international effort for the benefit of all of humanity.
Isn't sending things to space expensive?
It is if you have to pay for the whole launch. But a cryptographic key is just a string of numbers and letters. Since it's just data, the payload can be arbitrarily small. A grain of rice is a good comparison. This project will piggyback on a lunar lander. It may be possible to piggyback on one of the five Google Lunar X Prize landers launching this year but other organizations planning moon landings have expressed their support.
How much money needs to be on the Moon to make it worth it?
Any amount of money is more incentivizing than nothing but the aim of this project is to use new crowdfunding techniques to raise substantial funds. On top of that, information and notes could also be encrypted and added to the prize, only unlockable once claimed. In this way, the prize on the Moon will serve as a sort of time capsule for anyone to contribute to and have a sort sentimental value, much like the Voyager Golden Record.
Won't a rover be able to claim the reward?
A rover can't claim the prize because its capabilities are very limited. This is why it makes sense to have real people exploring space. Rovers can't explore as easily as a human and it isn't hard to design something that requires a person to open it. If a company were to create a rover capable of reading the key without a human's help, it would actually be a more impressive feat than returning humanity to the Moon.
Why not just send diamonds or gold?
A cryptographic key can be much more valuable since it gives access to an account that can have unlimited funds yet it can be infinitely small because it's just data. And by using a cryptographic key, we can wait to fund our lunar treasure chest until we know it has landed safely on the Moon without any risk of loss. Additionally, people all over the world can continue to contribute to the reward up until it is claimed.
Why send anything at all?
The Google Lunar X Prize relies on the trust of the X Prize Foundation to pay the reward to the winning team. They're trustworthy folks but to actually put the key on the surface of the Moon makes a world of difference. It's not just money being offered. The money is there!
It's surprisingly feasible and using a cryptographic key means that the funds will be entirely inaccessible from the Earth, no matter what happens.
Not to mention the message it sends! Imagine kids looking up at the Moon and knowing there's something there that they could find.
What can humans do on the Moon?
A lot actually. Aside from the obvious scientific value of further studying the Moon, there's opportunity for tourism, mining, astronomy, and using the moon as a stepping stone for future missions. The Moon has vast reserves of Helium-3, which will be very valuable when fusion powered spacecraft are developed. It's also a very weak gravity well with no atmosphere, which makes building tall structures much easier.
Space guns and traditional launches are much more efficient on the Moon too. It actually takes less energy to put material in low earth orbit by launching from the Moon than it does to launch that same material into orbit from Earth. And a lack of atmosphere means that an observatory on the far side of the Moon could look farther into the cosmos than ever before, with Earth-based radio signals being blocked for an even clearer picture.
How transparent is the prize money?
The use of a cryptographic key will make all of the prize money visible to anyone for full transparency. While only the person who retrieves the key from the Moon will be able to actually spend the money, anyone will be able to confirm that the money is not being spent by viewing a public ledger.
Who are you?
Lith Labs is an early stage experimental startup. We aim to encourage and incentivize exploration on earth and into the cosmos using cryptocurrency.