Bob Richards, a Canadian-born space entrepreneur, is most famous for having co-founded a company called Moon Express, which proposes to send commercial landers to the lunar surface. However, Richards has recently started another company, Artemis Music, which proposes to combine something called non-fungible tokens with space commercialization.
A non-fungible token (NFT) is a digital file that is stored on a blockchain that certifies that the file is unique and not interchangeable. NFTs have represented a wide variety of items, including images, videos, music and other types of files. The market for artistic NFTs has exploded in the last year or so, $250 million in 2020 and $2 billion in the first quarter of 2021. NFTs have become a way for artists, filmmakers and musicians to make a considerable amount of money.
Richards is going to try his hand at selling NFTs but with a commercial space twist. Musicians, artists, filmmakers and other creators will — for a fee — have their digital creations beamed to the International Space Station (ISS). The ISS will store the NFT for one orbit around the Earth before beaming it back. Thus, the digital work will have the extra cachet of having been in space. Richards believes that this fact will add to the price that the NFT will garner at auction. Artemis Music will garner a percentage of whatever price the “space-flown” piece sells at auction and for any subsequent sale.
This past July 28, Artemis Music conducted its first test of “space-flown” NFTs. The company beamed into space two files, one a recording of Debussy’s “Clair de Lune,” the other a piece of art by Micah Johnson entitled “Aku: Why Not Me?” “Aku: Why Not Me?” depicts a character named “Aku”, a Black boy who dreams of becoming an astronaut. The Johnson NFT was placed on sale by the Notables Platform on Aug. 10. The piece was sold for just over $58,000.00 the next day. The proceeds of the sale will go to the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS), a non-profit student-led organization promoting and enabling youth involvement in space-inspired STEM education and research. Aku has already been optioned for a feature motion picture.
Are NFTs a lasting thing, a new way to buy and sell original works of art? Or are they the equivalent of 1970s pet rocks or the Dutch tulip mania of the 17th century? Opinions vary, as a discussion on the Motley Fool site suggests.
One advantage that Artemis Music’s enterprise has over other startup commercial space efforts, such as Redwire’s microgravity 3D printing effort, is that the cost of taking the product to space and bringing it back is minimal. The most profitable space products have been those based on electronic signals. Communications satellites, GPS, and even landsats have involved the transmission of information. The initial cost has always been putting the satellites in orbit around the Earth. Artemis Music doesn’t even have to do that. The ISS is already there to receive and send signals.
If the idea of “space-flown” NFTs takes off as a profitable enterprise, Richards envisions a day when they can be transmitted to the lunar surface and back and, eventually, to Mars and back. Astronauts exploring the moon would likely have the facilities for receiving and sending “moon-flown” NFTs.
The broad, bipartisan acceptance of the Artemis Project suggests that it is only a matter of time before people are living and working on the moon and Mars. SpaceX’s Elon MuskElon Reeve MuskEquilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by The American Petroleum Institute — Tracking the Earth's 'ultimate record of change' Elon Musk, Grimes split after three years together UN secretary-general blasts space tourism MORE still dreams of founding a city on Mars. Future space settlers, if they mean to establish a new branch of human civilization beyond the Earth, will eventually form their own artistic and musical culture. They will create great works informed by their experiences in new worlds.
How would an artist living in a Mars settlement deliver his or her works to eager collectors and museums on the mother planet Earth? Transporting oil on canvass across interplanetary gulfs would be prohibitively expensive, even for a Martian Van Gogh or da Vinci. An NFT, on the other hand, would easily cross 100 million miles from a studio on Mars to an auction house on Earth. Thus, a new artistic medium, suitable to a multi-world human civilization, will come into its own.
Mark Whittington, who writes frequently about space and politics, has published a political study of space exploration entitled Why is It So Hard to Go Back to the Moon? as well as “The Moon, Mars and Beyond,” and, most recently, “Why is America Going Back to the Moon?” He blogs at Curmudgeons Corner. He is published in the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The Hill, USA Today, the LA Times and the Washington Post, among other venues.