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The Lunar Time Capsule

The Lunar Time Capsule

On January 25, 2021 the reddit user u/Valphon orchestrated the creation of a Lunar time capsule on the r/space subreddit. In the post, Valphon promised 100,000 users each 10 MB of data to send to the moon for free. Valphon purchased cargo area, called a MoonBox, of 0.75" wide and 0.125" deep capsule from Astrorobotic to place two 1 TB microSD cards on the moon's surface in 2023. As of February 8th, 2021, over 13k comments were submitted and the post was awarded over 35.3k upvotes and nearly 1000 awards.

Valphon's Time Capsule Reddit Post.

The MoonBox is the first of its kind. Valphon's cargo, along with other capsules, will be the world's first commercial payloads sent to the moon and likely amongst the first crowdsourced time capsules on the lunar surface. To this day, twelve people have walked on the moon's surface but soon enough, the thoughts and personalities of thousands of redditors will have inhabited our natural satellite's surface. In an act of community and kindness, Valphon organized the strangest and most remarkable time capsule in recent history.

The concept of lunar/space time capsules are not entirely novel. The Mars Perseverance rover carries the "Explore as One" plate which harbors microscopic signs of humanity in the form of 10.9 million engraved names. This plate is largely inspired by the more notable Pioneer Plaques and Voyager Golden Records. Launched in 1972 and 1973 respectively, Pioneer 10 and 11 were the first human-built spacecrafts to achieve escape velocity form the Solar System. Onboard both spacecraft lies the Pioneer Plaques which are engraved with pictorial messages depicting human life, the origin of the spacecraft and scientific symbols such as the hyperfine transition of neutral hydrogen and various galactic landmarks. Similar and additional depictions are engraved on the cover of the Voyager’s Golden Record. However, contrary to the plaques, the record itself can be played to reveal the audio recordings of 55 languages, sounds and images of our natural world and music from various cultures. Voyager 1 was launched on September 5, 1977 and 43 years later, it remains Earth's farthest reaching spacecraft at over 22 billion km away from a single human.

The Pioneer Plaque.

What’s astonishing about the Pioneer Plaques and the Golden Records are their encompassing and yet feeble attempts to capture the essence of humanity and our world to foreign life. These interstellar time capsules are our extraterrestrial greeting, a wave of sorts into the vastness of the cosmos. When placed on the backdrop of space, the four spacecraft and their capsules are more inconsequential than a single molecule of water in all of Earth's oceans. Nonetheless, we as humans still attempt to make our presence known. If any of these messages are found by an advanced civilization we would have (hopefully) communicated our level of scientific advancement, the location of Earth and a handful of images and sounds. Despite that incredible feat, like civilians of our own ancient civilizations, us humans would barely be known and understood. Our time capsules would merely be parietal art that share who we were collectively but not individually.

The Voyager Golden Record.

The lucky recipient of our message would know Earth and it's sounds but never its inhabitants. It's obvious that the contents of the Pioneer Plaques and the Voyager Golden Records were each obsessed over and iterated to preserve the most essential Earth and human information. President Jimmy Carter himself said "This is a present from a small, distant world, a token of our sounds, our science, our images, our music our thoughts and our feelings. We are attempting to survive our time so we may live into yours". I agree that the aluminum protected and electroplated time capsules are merely a token of humanity but I can't help but push back on accepting that it captures our thoughts and feelings. The contents of the record were selected by a committee chaired by Carl Sagan, who no doubt were all equipped to select the contents of such a message. However, I can't help but lament on all that was not included in the record or the plaque. The Golden Record contains the sound of sea and rain but fails to truly encapsulate all that make them worthy of possessing a part within the record. The sound of surf may indicate the frequency of waves and the density of water but it can never truly communicate the expansiveness of our oceans and the joys and wonders that result from it. Likewise, the greetings in 55 languages will never tell ode of a life well lived or the despair of a loved one lost.

This is why, to me, Valphon's lunar time capsule is remarkable. The thirteen thousand submissions feature the entire range of the human experience the plaques and records do not. Comments and submissions range from the profound and heartfelt to the trivial and humorous. If given a block of text, a single photo or 1 minute worth of video to extend to the universe, how do we choose what to say or send? Do we share ambitions or the ambitions of others? Do we tell the cosmos that we are sorry for the world we changed or thankful for the one we preserved? Or do we remain frivolous and simply share our humor? Valphon's time capsule answers this for us. While we'll never know why one chose to submit a beloved poem, an enchanting song or an image of the Mike Pence fly, we can be grateful to know that someone did. Valphon's time capsule will not communicate Earth's natural sounds or past and present languages, but it never promises to. What Valphon's time capsule promises and delivers, is humanity. Photos of our beloved display our love for one another while literary quotes deliver our intellect. Unlike the recipients of the Golden Records and the Pioneer Plaques, the recipients of this strange time capsule will truly know Earth's inhabitants. They will know our optimism, our fear, our love and even our absurdity. Upon opening the capsule, the recipients will have been Rick Rolled hundreds of times and will have read countless of personally crafted letters. These letters will not inform the recipients of the width of a hydrogen atom but they will exhibit the extent of our love and strangeness. Yes, Valphon's time capsule is meant to preserve humanity into the future but there is no doubt that it is a sample of each of our unhindered personalities. To one, the time capsule was their chance to profess their devotion with "I love you to the moon and back" and to another it was merely an opportunity to say "The Chicago bears suck, but by the time you see this, hopefully they're good".

I'm particularly moved by the many individuals who used the time capsule to share their deepest emotions with the world. Because of this time capsule I know of Lenidos who loves their family and is taking steps to love themselves and of Richard W. who wasn't able to live his dream as an astronaut but now, in digital spirit, can finally inhabit space. I now know of Michele L. who looks up at night and sees her mother as a beacon of light and I now know of CJ whose last words were "I simply want to live a beautiful life".

Admittedly, it will likely not withstand decades, let alone eons like a laser engraved gold and aluminum enforced disk. Within the comments there are discussions of various shielding methods but Valphon admits that the survival of the capsule largely relies on a future technology that will recover data from radiation damage. As a backup, a small paper scroll with the geographic coordinates and a key for a backup drive will accompany the microSD cards. However, the remarkability of Valphon's time capsule is independent of its longevity and survival. Time capsule historian William Jarvis argues that most time capsules are filled with junk and are mostly a mode of speaking to the present as opposed to the future- and to a certain extent, I agree. Upon the best case, the advice of thousands of redditors will not change the course of a future civilization. Decades from now the recipients of the time capsule will likely roll their eyes at submissions of the "Fitness Gram Pacer Test" and the unique quotes such as "pee pee poo poo". An extraterrestrial civilization will likely ponder over why many chose to simply share their optimism to unknown life. But after thousands of 10 MB chunks of data they'll understand. They'll understand that in the same way these messages attempt to illuminate humanity to them, a future unbeknownst to us, they share our collective humanity to the present.

What I chose to send to the moon was a quote; "For a man who wishes to be the one out of many, he is happy to be just one".  I  can't be certain that Valphon's time capsule will make its way to a future world or extraterrestrial life. Yet, with all the absurdity and love that is my humanity, I just can't help but be optimistic.

My Lunar Time Capsule Submission.
  1. Valphon's Lunar Time Capsule: https://www.reddit.com/r/space/comments/l52iym/you_can_send_something_to_the_moon_for_free_im/
  2. Astrorobotic's MoonBox: https://www.astrobotic.com/moon-box/faqs, https://www.dhl.com/global-en/spotlight/globalization/lunar-logistics.html?cid=Social_06aed1a098a24c2
  3. The Pioneer Plaques: https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/resources/706/pioneer-plaque/, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pioneer_plaque
  4. The Voyager Golden Record: https://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/golden-record/
  5. Perseverance Plate: https://www.cnet.com/news/nasa-installs-10-9-million-names-on-the-mars-perseverance-rover/, https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/spacecraft/rover/markings/
  6. William Jarvis: https://www.jstor.org/stable/25549191?seq=1
  7. A Few Submissions: https://www.reddit.com/r/space/comments/l52iym/you_can_send_something_to_the_moon_for_free_im/gkts8v8?utm_source=share&utm_medium=web2x&context=3, https://allpoetry.com/poem/14772182-Going-Home-by-Gerrit-Dodd,  https://imgur.com/a/v2HNJdm, https://imgur.com/a/M1yXU55, https://www.reddit.com/r/space/comments/l52iym/you_can_send_something_to_the_moon_for_free_im/gksgl1f?utm_source=share&utm_medium=web2x&context=3