Penn State’s Lunar Lion team is now $133,768 closer to landing on the moon at the conclusion of its first round of crowdfunding, which started on Jan. 20 and ended a few seconds ago. (It ended at 12:00 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 24, if you’re reading this later.)
The $133,768 raised will help fund the development of a prototype moon lander, which will be used to test and simulate the actual landing of the Lunar Lion on the moon that is scheduled for Dec. 2015. Currently, the only other entities that have completed a “soft-landing” on the moon are the governments of the United States, the former Soviet Union, and China.
If successful, the Lunar Lion could become the first privately-funded effort to land on the moon, ever, which would net the team and the university $20 million from the Google Lunar X Prize. At the very least, a moon landing by the Lunar Lion would put Penn State in the history books as the first university in the world to accomplish that feat.
All in all, the Lunar Lion garnered over 800 donations in this first round of crowdfunding. Notable individual funders include Weebly co-founder (and Penn State alum) David Rusenko and current Minnesota Vikings linebacker Michael Mauti. Notable corporate donors include A&E Television and Moon Base Builders, who each contributed gifts of at least $10,000 to the university-led moon mission.
This initial crowdfunding effort was the first in a series of crowdfunding “waves,” which will be released intermittently until the Lunar Lion’s projected launch day in 2015. Collectively, these waves comprise the first fundraising campaign by Penn State to be hosted on a public crowdfunding platform.
The Lunar Lion had set out with a fundraising goal of $406,536, partly because that number corresponds with the distance from the moon to Earth at its farthest (406,536 kilometers), but mostly because it will cost the team at least $400,000 to prototype its moon lander. The $133,768 raised amounts to just a third of the goal; however, the Lunar Lion says that it will be able to compensate for the lower-than-ideal crowdfunding total by bringing in additional corporate contributions from various aerospace companies. This is according to the Director of Development for Penn State research, Steve Blake, who co-leads the Lunar Lion’s fundraising efforts.
“We have a number of [corporate]in-kind donations that are not only in the works — we’ve actually received some of them,” Blake said.*
*Details on these in-kind donations have not yet been cleared for public release, since the transfer agreements on the donations are in the process of being finalized.
According to Blake, such contributions will balance out the lower fundraising total by reducing the total cost of the mission, which should keep the Lunar Lion on track with its finances. He did acknowledge that the team had hoped to raise more than 33 percent of its $400,000 goal, given the groundbreaking nature of what the university-led mission is trying to accomplish.
“We had a good story to tell. There’s nothing like this happening in the world,” he said. “The fact that we were unable to tell as many people as is necessary to have success in crowdfunding tells us we need to do a better job telling the story.”
Looking to “do a better job telling the story,” the Lunar Lion plans on expanding its support base by promoting the project across the country. Last Thursday, Lunar Lion tackled the greater Philadelphia area with an event at Penn State’s Great Valley campus; it plans on pushing for the project in New York City in March, too.
The team is treating this first crowdfunding effort as a learning experience. For one, it now knows which donation incentives (rewards for pledging a certain amount of money) work best — the reward for a $100 contribution, a 140-character engraved message on the lander that Lunar Lion will send to the moon, was most popular among donors.
After its first round of crowdfunding, the Lunar Lion also believes that the team’s goal of completing a student- and university-led space mission has resonated with and will continue to resonate with people all over the world, Penn Staters or otherwise. Currently, Lunar Lion donors represent 44 states and the District of Columbia in the U.S., along with 19 foreign countries, ranging from Israel to Kuwait to Malta to New Zealand.
A donor living in Australia has even been corresponding with the Lunar Lion about its approach to landing on the moon, despite having no ties to the university whatsoever.
“He’s just excited that his generation is being enabled to do this [land on the moon]by Penn State,” Blake said.