When astronaut Charlie Duke walked on the Moon in April of 1972 during the Apollo 16 mission, he brought along a very personal memento with a message he wanted to leave behind.
“When I walked on the Moon, I took a photo of my family along and wrote a brief message on the back of the photo to leave on the Moon,” Duke said. “I wanted my family to be part of my mission and it was my way of taking them with me – to celebrate my family.”
Duke has now helped spearhead a project that allows people on Earth to send their message into space. He says this project, called AstroGrams, enables anyone to celebrate, commemorate or communicate in space in a truly unique way.
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AstroGrams offers people worldwide the opportunity to inscribe a small metal plaque with their name, and a message and send it into space – either on a suborbital flight or orbital flight, to the International Space Station, to lunar orbit and perhaps even to Mars or beyond — with costs starting at just $99.
“Our mission with AstroGrams is to promote awareness of space exploration and to make people feel a part of the space program,” said Tom O’Connor, a space enthusiast and businessperson who, along with Duke, came up with the idea for this project.
Along with providing the opportunity for people to send a message to space, another key element of the new company, said O’Connor, is to give AstroGrams – for free – to pediatric patients in hospitals around the world.
“In this way, as well as encouraging interest in space, we wish to stimulate and hearten children’s spirits,” he said. “What better way to encourage them in their recovery as well as provide them a personal reason to become interested in and look forward to rocket launches.”
The mini plaques will be attached to payloads or to parts of rockets heading to various destinations in space.
For those purchasing an AstroGram, a three-line engraved plaque that flies to Earth orbit is $99 USD; a roundtrip to and from the ISS adds $69 (which is relatively inexpensive to have space-flown personal memorabilia). For additional fees you can add more text or include a personal photo, have a replica of the AstroGram made into a keychain, or create a personal mission patch.
As part of an AstroGram, purchasers receive a welcome letter from Duke and an official certificate, a copy of the rocket manifest showing that the AstroGram was loaded on the vehicle, and commemorative stickers. They also receive a link to the webcast where their Astrogram will be launched. Purchasers can choose to receive a replica of their AstroGram, or if it will be flown to the ISS, the Astrogram can be returned to the purchaser. Each AstroGram will also be registered with the International Space Registry, meaning that people can search for the current location (if it is still in space) of the item after it has been launched. See all the possible ‘destinations’ for Astrograms here.
The concept for AstroGrams was only conceived a few months ago, in early 2019, during a discussion between Duke, O’Connor and another friend, named Andrew Dodge.
“I’ve known Charlie for years,” O’Connor told Universe Today, “and he really is such an inspirational and giving person. We were talking about how people want to leave their mark and be remembered, and I recalled Charlie’s own ‘message’ he left on the Moon. We knew we were passionate about encouraging younger generations, to get them involved in space, and the idea just took off.”
The concept quickly came together and within just a couple of months, they launched a website where people can easily order and compile their AstroGram. Additionally, they have now have signed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with two space companies. In November, AstroGrams announced that its inaugural spaceflight will be part of Firefly Aerospace’s Alpha maiden launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, currently scheduled for sometime late 2020. The AstroGrams will be part of the Dedicated Research and Education Accelerator Mission (DREAM payload) provided by Firefly Aerospace.
AstroGrams also announced this week that they signed another MoU with Craig Technologies to facilitate and develop payloads to be delivered to the International Space Station (ISS). AstroGrams will make use of Craig Technologies’ on-orbit external experimental facility hosted on the NanoRacks International Space Station External Platform.
“We are delighted to have signed this MoU with Craig Technologies,” Duke said in a statement, “an innovative and proven company, to deliver our payloads to the ISS. We are particularly pleased that our first payload, one of many planned to be sent to the ISS with CT, is on schedule to be delivered to the ISS during Q3 2020, to remain on the ISS for up to 24 weeks.”
“We’ve had discussions with several different companies,” O’Connor said, “and all the major players are very interested in what we are doing. They know with Charlie Duke at the helm this is a genuine organization and they all want to help promote space in a very positive manner.”
O’Connor said he is grateful how everything is quickly coming together.
“It’s like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle coming together to create a huge, beautiful picture!” he said. “Space brings so many benefits, and while some are less tangible than others, we feel the excitement of a launch and bringing people together is the best part. Plus, for the children that are in hospital, knowing they are sending something into space might help their recovery, and maybe even inspire them to get involved in the space industry.”
Duke’s photo that he left on the Moon has long been an inspiration for anyone wanting to leave a legacy in space. On the back of the photo, Duke wrote, “This is the family of astronaut Charlie Duke from planet Earth who landed on the Moon on April 20, 1972.”
The photo shows Duke and his wife Dorothy Meade Clairborne along with their two sons Charles and Thomas, ages seven and five at the time.
Duke has said that the photo is a great example of the human side of space exploration, and that it was a very meaningful way to involve his family in the Apollo 16 mission.