Penn State crowd-funds exploration to the moon

Graphic by Autumn Mariano

Pennsylvania State University is crowd-funding the first non-governmentally funded expedition to the moon. If a donor chips in $100, there is a chance they will have a personalized message sent to the moon.

“When I got started as an undergraduate, we were building robotic telescopes that would sit on the roof of the physics building and look at stars. That was something at the time that had never been done before by students over the Internet,” said John Armstrong, Weber State University professor of physics. “It seems completely doable for students to put a rover on the moon, as long as they can get the funding to put it into space.”

According to Armstrong, some rocketry companies will let students piggyback pay loads on their rockets. Penn State named its spacecraft after its mascot, the Lunar Lion.

“Except for the cost for getting there, actually putting the item onto the moon is challenging, but certainly believable for Penn State to do,” said John Sohl, WSU professor of physics. “I believe that there is a reasonable chance I could have my students design such a program if I had a little bit of funding . . . meaning less than a million dollars. The really hard part is getting away from Earth’s gravity and getting you into an orbit close to the moon.”

Penn State won the Google Lunar X-Prize. The first-place team was funded $40 million as a reward for sending a spacecraft to the moon. This spacecraft had to be able to travel 500 meters above or below the surface and send back two broadcasts.

“I think that someone needs to continue the space exploration program,” said Joshua Nelson, WSU senior. “I would love to see that be the government, but if it’s not them, someone just needs to . . . the idea of space exploration is bigger than any one nation or any one group of individuals. I think that if there were more privatized exploration expeditions, then it would fall away from this ideal of humanity going to this place and it would fall into this problem of elite travel.”

Only three governments have done explorations to the moon: the United States, Russia and China. Of those three, the U.S. was the only one to put a man on the moon.

Nelson said that when the U.S. sends astronauts, they are sent up through Russia’s space program, because the U.S. doesn’t have one anymore, and that he wonders why the students want to go to the moon in the first place.

“Are they looking for aliens? We have already been to the moon so many times that the government stopped going because it was done with and there is nothing on the moon,” said Kierra Brown, freshman and interior design major. “I am for the rover; I am against people, dogs and chips, because what if they die? I guess, if it’s their dream to walk on the moon, then I am pro-people.”