Penn State’s Moon Mission Launches Crowdfunding Campaign

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By the end of 2015, Penn State hopes to complete the first privately funded mission to the moon, ever, for a shot at $20 million in prize money through the Google Lunar X Prize competition. To that end, the Lunar Lion, the Penn State-led Google Lunar X Prize team, has just launched a crowdfunding campaign on Rockethub, with the goal of raising $400,000 by Feb. 25.

This campaign — Penn State’s first major fundraising effort to ever be hosted on a public crowdfunding platform — follows a series of rocket engine tests recently completed by the Lunar Lion, dubbed “Phase 1.” Having now tested the NASA-provided rocket thrusters that will be used to land the Lunar Lion on the moon, the team hopes to move on to the next phase: the development of a working Lunar Lion prototype.

In other words, the Lunar Lion wants to create a preliminary version of its rover, to be tested here on Earth. The team would like to have a working prototype up and running by midsummer.

Creating a prototype moon rover, of course, will require a lot of money. This is where the crowdfunding campaign comes in. $400,000 is a very ambitious goal; for comparison, a recent crowdfunded effort to send a telescope into space required 17,614 donors — averaging $85 a donation — to raise $1,500,000. This means that, to meet its fundraising goal, the Lunar Lion will require either strength in numbers (via the Penn State community and alumni association) or strength in size of donations.

Even if Penn State successfully meets its $400,000 goal, this particular campaign is just the first step toward funding the university’s race to the moon. Testing the Lunar Lion prototype alone will likely exceed $400,000 in costs. A successful moon landing will require a total of $60 million; the university hopes to raise $20 million of that sum through philanthropic efforts such as this Rockethub campaign, according to Steve Blake, Director of Development for Penn State’s research institutes.

(Editor’s note: Of the remaining $40 million that is not accounted for by philanthropic contributions, the university hopes to raise $30 million through corporate contributions. The other $10 million comes from university savings; the Lunar Lion will not be charged overhead for its usage of Penn State facilities.)

To the Lunar Lion, this campaign is not just a fundraising effort; it’s also an opportunity for the public — not just the Penn State community, but also the wider world — to participate in a mission that may well revolutionize space exploration, according to student team leader Ajeeth Ibrahim.

“We want people to know that such massive feats are within their ability to participate and take an active part in,” Ibrahim said. “Showing that students at Penn State are working to make space exploration a reality is one way to show how this is possible.”

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