Dean Masley & Ahsan Fazal (Moonshot Express): A Bitcoin ‘X Prize’

“Let’s put Bitcoin on the moon. Literally.” Dean and Ahsan of Moonshot Express laid out their plan to crash-land a Bitcoin wallet on the Moon, the technical and funding challenges, and why it’s not (just) a stunt.


Dean: Alright guys, thanks for having us out here — this is super exciting! Being in the blockchain space, it’s really cool seeing the intersection with space itself, two very disruptive things, and trying to use the technologies to get out there and explore the great unknown.

Without further ado, we want to introduce a project we’ve been working on for the past six months, called Moonshot Express. I don’t know if you’ve seen our T-shirts, I think the mission itself is pretty self-evident: we have a Bitcoin logo with #ToTheMoon underneath it, and we’re going to talk about how we’re going to take this meme that’s been around in the entire Bitcoin community, of sending Bitcoin to the Moon, and then maybe we can realise that this goal isn’t quite so far-fetched.

Let’s drop into the narrative. First off, I would like for you guys perhaps to close your eyes real quick and let’s imagine some kind of future moment together. It’s a nice summer night, you can feel the breeze, it’s dark outside, you’re looking up at the night sky, seeing all the sparkling stars. Then you look up at the Moon, it’s nice and shiny and bright, and you sit there knowing with full satisfaction that up on that Moon is our treasure chest, and that treasure chest is full of coins, given and donated by the entire world, who is all ambitiously waiting to do the next best thing for all of humanity, and then you know with the satisfaction that you can participate too. You whip out your smartphone, you send some money to the Moon, and you know some day, someone is going to go up there and get that money and claim that treasure chest.

This is the vision that’s been on our minds and really been driving us crazy, of how can we pull off something so epic. The first thing we realised is that it’s probably not so far-fetched. I mean, if you think of the technology involved for pulling something like this off, we got rockets, we got blockchain wallets, and we have experts in both of these fields who can pull off great works of engineering. I don’t know if any of you heard what ICOs are, but there’s been quite a bit of money rolling around for sometimes the silliest of ideas. So it makes sense that maybe we could pull all these pieces together, to pull off something just so absurd and so hilarious that it then changes humanity forever.

A quick introduction: my name is Dean Masley, I was the last Executive Director of the Blockchain Education Network, and right now I’m working on a startup called NestEgg over in Amsterdam.

Ashan: My name is Ashan, I’m an aerospace engineering student. I’ve been programming and developing since I was 15, and right now diving into the blockchain space, so this project is like the perfect combination of both my interests.

Dean: And then also, just to let you guys know, we’re just the pretty faces up here right now, but there’s actually an entire community of people that are joining with us and contributing on these problems — we just have the pleasure of being here and talking to you today. But we’re actually a huge open community that everyone is allowed to join and participate and help us solve these problems.

So, let’s get into it! The first big question is why would we want to do this? It’s pretty absurd, and there’s probably a lot of other great problems that the world could be working on, so then the biggest question is why do we want to send Bitcoin to the Moon?

Our first way of looking at this is a way, as Vinay was talking earlier, of bringing humanity together, to take on goals that normally required nation states. We want to decentralise the space race into an effort that everyone or Earth, if they so want to, can participate, join and make larger. In doing so, we can put something out there on the Moon, a treasure chest that is valuable to anyone who likes money, so hopefully everyone.

The quick economics of the Moonshot project is a few assumptions. One, if we could put a Bitcoin wallet on the Moon and everyone is sending money to this wallet, then over time the price of the wallet will be going up in value. The second factor is that over time space travel decreases: technology gets better, we find new ways of doing things, and these technologies become more accessible to more people. With those two factors in mind, there comes an intersection point where it might actually just be worth it to go up to the Moon and come back a millionaire or whatever that would be.

Ashan: How are we actually going to do this? As Dean said earlier, every piece of this puzzle has already been solved. That’s also one of the reasons why we chose the Moon instead of Mars to go to right now, because this goal is very achievable. We have been to the Moon, we know how to launch something to the Moon, how to land something there. Every single piece of the puzzle has already been done; it just needs to be put together by a bunch of people that actually want to do it, and it needs to be funded.

Right now we have a three-step process of how we achieve this project. The first is called the key pair problem. How do we put the wallet on the Moon without anyone knowing the private key on Earth? This is a cryptography problem and a blockchain problem. But if we do that, how can you be sure that the private key on the Moon is actually attached to the public key that’s known on Earth? This needs to be 100%, factually, without any trust in people, this needs to be verified like that.

Dean: That’s really important too. We want to make sure that we create a wallet that everyone can trust that the keys are not on Earth. Because if you guys think we’re just trying to scam you, saying we’re sending a wallet to the Moon while taking all the money, that really wouldn’t be a good incentive to put money into this Moon wallet.

Ashan: I’ll have the private key in my pocket, and you can all send money to the Moon… We don’t want that to happen, and we don’t want anyone to think that’s happening.

Dean: That’s why the first biggest problem is this paradox of how do we create a key pair which we can put that private key on the Moon, that everyone knows is attached to this public key that everyone can donate to, but no one on Earth has a possibility of knowing this key until you go up and get it. That’s the first challenge.

Ashan: Yeah. Without even knowing that this would be a challenge, we were at first just thinking of having a titanium plate and etched into it would be the private key to the wallet, but there’s a ton of problems with that, because the machine etching it into the titanium plate gets the data. If the data is known on Earth, what the private key is, then it can be reverse engineered somehow. We need to be 100% certain that that can’t be the case. Right now we’re thinking it needs to be done on launch or on the Moon, the private-public key generation, and transmitting it back to the Earth. But then another issue comes up: what kind of hardware do we need, or what happens with the hardware that’s meant for space? It goes into a long testing period, can it be tampered with or not, all those kind of issues. That’s basically the key pair problem.

Dean: Then let’s assume we find out how to pull this off. We do a few hackathons, and some crafty engineers say, “Yo, we can pull this off, people can verify that the public key is attached to this unknown private key.” Then the next step is finding a rocket. At a space convention, I’m sure you guys are well aware of the multitude of rockets being launched into space, and so then the factor for us is which one of these can we piggyback on top of, or should we launch our own rocket? We’ve been going across to different agencies, we went to the ESA for example and talked with some engineers there, we had some professors from the University of Delft, offering to put a smaller rocket on a satellite going to space to low Earth orbit and launch from there. In a nutshell, there’s a lot of different paths to get to the Moon, so having the specific logistics worked out of which rocket and how much it’s going to cost takes us a lot farther along the way towards what we need to do next with it.

And then the question is: should we piggyback on somebody else, or should we launch our rocket ourselves, and there’s a few caveats to each of those situations.

Ashan: And these figures of $5 million and $65 million are not very accurate. It’s just to give people a ballpark figure of in what kind of terms we’re talking about. We’re in a room with people from the space industry, and you all know this is just a really broad ballpark, not an accurate thing.

Also, the issue with piggybacking is that if you launch a rover or something to the Moon, and somewhere on that rover is attached our device that holds the private key, in space, the laws that govern space is maritime law. Maritime law says if you have a device somewhere in sea or in space, you can claim a certain area around that, and then the people we would piggyback on could claim the private key as their own and no one would have access to it. So all of these kind of issues are still need to be figured out: finding a rocket, finding a launch plan, and how to get the private key actually on the Moon.

Dean: Then the third challenge: let’s say we figure out the key pair, we know which rocket we’re going to choose. The very last question is: how are we going to fund this thing? The biggest problem with the crowdfund and with ICOs is that most people who invest in an ICO expect that whatever they’re buying is going to go up in price later, it’s going to be part of some epic DApp that’s used across the world and that’s why your tokens will be worth so much money. So how do we convince people to give money to a project which is absolutely not going to make any ROI, you’re literally just putting money into a rocket to launch into space?

Somehow we’re going to have to generate some kind of marketing campaign or some kind of marketing gimmick to get people to be incentivised to want to participate in this awesome cause. I think enough people are excited by it and would be willing to contribute just for the sake of it, and enough people doing a small amount could make that worth it, but we had a few ideas as well to maybe perhaps further along the use case or part of the funness of this activity.

Ashan: And the main idea of this should be along the lines of The Million Dollar Homepage. I don’t know if you guys know, but there was a guy who had a website called The Million Dollar Homepage, he had a million pixels on that website, and he sold every one of those pixels for one dollar, and he earned a million dollars for selling pixels on that website.

Dean: Yeah. Some people were buying their names and they have their name on the website forever, and we took a little bit of an interest in this idea. For example, what if you could engrave your name onto a rocket by buying these Moon rocks per se, and then that lets you engrave per pixel into a rocket that’s going to make this historic leap into space.

Ashan: This is not the solution, but something along the lines of the Million Dollar Homepage should be the benefit you get from participating in the ICO. It shouldn’t be a financial benefit; it should be something like that, to make your existence permanent by putting something on the Moon with your name on it or something like that.

Dean: We’re also organising a volunteer group, a bunch of people who are going to be executing this strategy, so then another big important factor is how is this money going to be spent? Because if we’re spending all this time making sure that the actual wallet is generated securely and verifiably, we obviously need to make sure that whoever is organising the logistics of actually organising the rocket, paying for the equipment and making sure this all goes well, that too needs proper validation and making sure that someone doesn’t run off and buy a few Lambos. That’s why we want to make sure that the governance of the money is also appropriate, and there’s a few methods of doing that, But that’s also part of these challenges that we’re approaching and letting everyone in the world attack this. And yeah, marketing.

The very last phase of this is okay, it sounds great, people would like to go to the Moon, the challenges don’t seem too hard, and I’m sure a few of you in the room even have some answers that we haven’t scoped out yet. So then the real question is how is this going to be pulled off? What is Moonshot Express?

We’re a global community of people who just like participating in our spare time, we’re contributing answers and proposals to these big problems. Some people write a proposal on how to do the public-private key problem, people will add to the discussion, and then we send it around to everyone we know, saying, “Hey, you must know someone who can add a little extra piece to this solution so we can bring it to the next level.”

We’re doing some marketing, we went to the Groningen hackathon in the Netherlands a few months ago, and we brought this nice poster with people putting their faces on the Moonshot going up. But we really want to emphasise that this is a community effort; we’re making this not just something done by a company or a nation state, but rather just be enthusiasts who think this is a really cool idea.

Ashan: Yeah, anyone can jump in, the project is owned by no one, and if you want to take the lead in some area you can do that. We’re an open, friendly community for just getting something to the Moon.

Dean: This is what we think could mark the beginning of a new era of human history. We already have this technology where we’re moving the physical world around us with a push of a button, and we’re using these new blockchain technologies to even remove the middlemen that are responsible for that. What better way to mark the power of this technology and the ability it has to aggregate human behaviour and organisation than doing something so outlandish, literally sending Bitcoin to the Moon and making this meme a reality, making this some a self-fulfilling prophecy that only requires a bunch of enthusiasts what in the past required huge nation states or huge corporations? This act on its own will make it so that anyone in the future working on bigger problems in blockchain or other technology, if anyone is being a hater and giving them crap for that, they can just point up at the Moon and say, “Well, it’s not rocket science.” We think this is a nice way of making tangible something that everyone in this room kind of already feels.

We welcome all of you to join, hop on board the rocket, come to our website and join the discussions. If you have any insights, you can contribute and bring this to the next level. Because the way this works is as we solve one problem after the other, which can be done by simply one person giving the right answer, we’re moving on and keeping this momentum rolling to actually pull this great feat off.

Ashan: We are building a platform, Moonshot Express as the platform to organise and build this project and to structure it. The structuring is one of the things that really needs to be done well. It’s just I built this and I wanted this to have a slide, but I don’t have much to say about it. [laughter] Thank you! [applause]