Images, messages from OC will be headed to moon

Oil City is going to the moon, thanks to a $79.5 million NASA grant recently awarded to Astrobotic of Pittsburgh.

Those who attended Oil City’s First Night celebration last New Year’s Eve may remember Astrobotic’s presentation at Trinity United Methodist Church.

The company collected pictures and messages to be placed on an SD card to be sent to the moon in 2021 on the company’s Peregrine lander.

“We collected images, messages and pictures that the kids drew that are going to be sent up to the moon,” Astrobotic CEO John Thornton said. “In general, the goal of our company is to make the moon accessible to the world.”

In addition to Oil City’s contribution, Astrobotic has received 28 payloads from eight different countries.

“It includes an array of science instruments, time capsules and a few marketing things,” Thornton said.

Also included are robots and a rock from Mount Everest.

As the moon lacks an atmosphere, anything on the surface theoretically remains there indefinitely, unaffected by erosion.

“Everything that’s on the surface of the moon stays there for billions of years,” Thornton said.

With that being the case, one may wonder if Oil City’s SD card will be readable by the time someone picks it up, or if it will be outdated technology by then.

“That is a great question,” Thornton said with a laugh. “Hopefully we’d have the technology to do that.”

While some of the items are meant merely to generate public interest in the moon, the ultimate goal is to look toward exploration and development of our nearest neighbor in the solar system, Thornton said.

NASA’s next manned mission to the moon is planned for 2024, and those astronauts will need some automated assistance.

“All of the activities are going to need support from the robotic landers,” Thornton said. “Building a base, being support for the humans on the surface robotics is a key part.”

Thornton said the moon could be key to human exploration of Mars and beyond, particularly with the possibility of frozen water in the moon’s shadowed craters.

“If you can get to it, it’s rocket fuel,” Thornton said. “Potentially, it’s a gas station. We could use it as a stepping stone to Mars.”