There’s a huge discrepancy when it comes to governments and private companies putting forth space ventures. While government entities like NASA seem to pursue the exploration of the universe purely for the sake of a greater understanding of nature, companies and a select few individuals have decidedly less altruistic goals concerning space—really they’re just looking for ways to make money. Here are some of the crazy ideas they came up with to line their pockets.
10. Space-Based Reality Shows
With reality TV shows based on everything from farmers’ love lives to a family of duck hunters, you can bet your bottom dollar that networks have been eagerly awaiting the chance to do something in space. So far, the two best known shots at a reality TV show in space are Mars One and Space Race.
Mars One is the insanely ambitious project to place human settlers on Mars. The show would follow the astronaut candidates throughout their entire journey from training to touchdown on Mars. Although there were a lot of sponsors associated with the project, some problems arose with the production company and the show has since fallen apart.
NBC’s Space Race has the much more realistic premise of following contestants as they compete for a ticket aboard Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo commercial space shuttle. However, NBC is now reassessing its plans for the show after SpaceShipTwo crashed in 2014 resulting in the death of one of the two pilots.
9. Space Billboards
Some Belgian researchers at KU Leuven are taking the necessary steps to put the first billboard in space. The billboards would be on the side of a satellite called “CubeSat” that was designed by the researchers. Since the billboards will obviously be impossible to see from Earth, no one is really sure what the purpose of the billboards will be other than a status symbol, but so far at least seven companies, including Microsoft, have invested in the project.
In addition to providing a new frontier for advertising, the CubeSat will also carry instruments designed to research global warming. Although the whole project seems a little odd, the research team is all set to launch the satellite this year. Once the CubeSat makes it into orbit, it’ll give a whole new meaning to the term “ad space.”
8. Trespassing on Mars
Most of the world applauded the efforts of NASA when they successfully landed the Pathfinder and Sojourner probes on Mars in 1997. But soon after the successful touchdown was announced, three men from Yemen came forward and slapped NASA with a lawsuit for trespassing on their property.
The men made the claim that they had inherited Mars from their ancient ancestors who had lived on the Red Planet over 3,000 years ago. All they had to substantiate their claim were liberal interpretations of some obscure texts in Sabaean and Himyaritic mythologies.
Despite being labeled insane by the Yemeni courts, the men pressed on and demanded a meeting with the U.S. ambassador in which they requested that NASA suspend gathering data from the probes until the matter was settled. Growing tired of the developing situation, officials in Yemen informed the men that if they didn’t dispense with the nonsense they would be promptly imprisoned. All three decided to drop the case.
7. Selling Land on Mars
The Mars trespassing lawsuit wasn’t the end for the three Yemeni men and their quest to cash in on the planet. If anything, it just taught them they needed to use a different approach in their scheming. Rather than trying to get a lot of money from one organization, they figured they should try to get a little bit of money from a lot of individuals. In 1998, the men started a fake business selling plots of land on Mars for two dollars a square meter. When questioned about their enterprise, the men said they pledged to use the money to restore several ancient cities. But since there’s an international treaty in effect which states that any land not on Earth does not belong to any one person, very few people took the business seriously. As is the case with most scams though, there were still a few suckers too naive to see its blatant illegitimacy.
6. Space Milk Advertising
Since Astronauts often live in a microgravity environment for an extended period of time, they need to do whatever they can to maintain the strength of their muscles and bones. What better drink to that help promote healthy bones than milk, right? That’s probably what Israeli milk company Tnuva had in mind when they decided they wanted to film a commercial on the Russian space station Mir.
In the commercial, Commander Vasily Tsibliyev is seen losing contact with Mir ground control. When contact is reestablished, mission command asks him what he wants more than anything. Tsibliyev tells them he wants nothing more than to enjoy glass of real Israeli milk. After showing some shots of scientists formulating the special space milk in a lab, the ad concludes with a shipment of milk being launched to Mir and a shot of Tsibliyev actually drinking it in space. The 90-second commercial took an entire nine months of planning and cost nearly half a million dollars. But it was probably all worth it for Tnuva just to say they were the first company to shoot a commercial in space.
5. Selling Moon Marooned Lunar Spacecraft
When the Soviet Union landed the unmanned Luna 21 spacecraft and Lunokhod 2 rover on the Moon’s surface in January 1973, the mission was initially hailed as a great success. But then in June of the same year the Soviet Union suddenly announced that the project was over. No outside source could figure out exactly why it ended prematurely, but the consensus was that mission control either lost contact or was unable to move the rover.
Nobody gave much thought to the Luna 21 or Lunokhod 2 for roughly twenty years. Then, in December 1993, both the spacecraft and rover appeared on a New York auction list. They were being sold by the Lavochkin Company—the same people who designed them. Despite the fact that the two pieces of discarded Soviet space technology were destined to remain stranded on the moon, they were still sold to a video game developer who claimed ownership of the lander/rover duo for a cool $68,500.
4. Exoplanet Naming
After the Kepler space telescope was launched in 2009, it led to the discovery of a host of new exoplanets orbiting other stars in the galaxy. Finding new planets is always exciting for astronomers, but they always tend to give them really dull names like Kepler 452-b. This is where the startup company Uwingu saw an opportunity. By creating an exoplanet naming contest, the company allowed users to submit a name for an exoplanet for $9.99 or vote on a name someone else came up with for $0.99.
When astronomers first caught wind of this they were understandably concerned, especially since Uwingu didn’t disclose how they planned on using the money from the sale of the naming rights. Furthermore, the naming of celestial bodies is strictly regulated by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) and, according to them, they’re going to continue assigning the official names to exoplanets, regardless of what Uwingu is doing.
3. Soft Drink Brand Promotions
Japanese soft drink company Pocari Sweat is also looking to take their brand into space. Engineers have designed a special can of powdered Pocari Sweat in the hopes that one day in the future an astronaut on the moon will find the can, mix the powdered contents with water they have on hand, and also read some of the heartfelt messages from children placed in a tiny time capsule.
Although its technically just a soda can, the technology that went into it is pretty advanced. It has 70 components that are designed to keep it safe during its trip to the moon in 2016. If the plan goes off without a hitch, Pocari Sweat will be the first private company to put an object on the moon.
2. Issuing Space Parking Tickets
433 Eros is a a small asteroid orbiting relatively close to Earth. In 1996, NASA launched a probe that was designed to circle Eros and land on its surface. When the probe finally touched down on the asteroid in 2001, NASA received an invoice from a space enthusiast named Gregory Nemitz. He made the fantastic claim that NASA owed him $20 for parking.
Eleven months before the probe landed on Eros, Nemitz had recorded and published his claim on the asteroid with a nonprofit organization. He seemed to think he actually owned the space rock and, when NASA defaulted on their payment for the parking ticket, he escalated the situation by filing a lawsuit. Amazingly, the case went all the way to the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco. That’s as far as it went though. The judge there made it clear that he wasn’t going to act on the case and threw it out. With no legal recourse left to explore, Nemitz refrained from harassing NASA for the 20 bucks.
1. The Lunar Embassy Commission
A number of individuals and organizations have hatched schemes that claim to allow people to purchase portions of land on the Moon or other celestial bodies, but Dennis Hope’s Lunar Embassy Commission has probably been the most successful.
In 1995, Hope began selling 1-acre Moon plots for $20 each. To help motivate sales and make moon land seem like a smart investment, he also claimed that each plot was rich in a special type of helium that was worth roughly $125,000 per ounce.
As we learned with the men from Yemen, this business plan constitutes a direct violation of international treaties which state that the Moon cannot be claimed. However, in Hope’s defense, he did file an official request with the United Nations to see if he could get permission to sell lunar real estate. When he failed to get a response from the UN, he decided to go ahead and do it anyway. Shockingly, Hope has been running this scam for close to 30 years and claims to have sold at least 2.5 million plots, including several to former Presidents of the United States. A few years ago, he even expanded his business to include the sale of land on Mars, Venus, Mercury, and one of Jupiter’s moons.