A cryptocurrency created to make fun of cryptocurrency is now funding an actual lunar mission.
On May 9, SpaceX founder Elon Musk and Canada’s Geometric Energy Corporation (GEC) announced the two companies will collaborate on DOGE-1, which will launch a 40-kilogram CubeSat (about 88 pounds) on board a Falcon 9 rocket sometime in the first quarter of 2022. As its name suggests, the mission has been completely paid for by a cryptocurrency called Dogecoin, which Musk has been touting over the last few months.
Between memes, cryptocurrency, and the completely separate subject of meme cryptocurrency, there’s a lot of internet esoterica to unpack. Here’s everything we know about DOGE-1, Dogecoin, and how it’s all related to the Moon.
What is doge?
Doge—a misspelling of “dog”—is a popular meme dating back to 2013. Though the content always varies, doge memes typically have two basic elements: a picture of a surprised-looking Shiba Inu (called “Shibe”) and some text describing the dog’s inner monologue. Usually it’s short phrases like “wow” written in many different colors — but always in Comic Sans.
According to Know Your Meme,
the dog of doge fame is an actual Shiba Inu named Kabosu. In 2010,
Kabosu's owner, Atsuko Sato, posted a few pictures of her new rescue
dog online, including the one immortalized in doge memes. Someone came
across the photo on Sato’s personal blog and shared it on Reddit, where
it went viral. The rest is internet history.
What is Dogecoin?
Basically, it’s a kind of cryptocurrency that, much like the doge meme, was kind of a joke. Now, Dogecoin’s market cap is around $80 billion, so it’s a bit more serious.
At the height of doge’s popularity in 2013, software engineer Jackson Palmer tweeted he was "investing in Dogecoin,” as a joke about the meme and cryptocurrency. He said he was “pretty sure” Dogecoin would be “the next big thing,” which of course it wasn’t supposed to be — until it was.
According to CNET, Palmer bought the Dogecoin.com domain in the spirit of keeping the gag going. He even Photoshopped Shibe’s confused face on a coin. Eventually, Palmer began collaborating on Dogecoin with software engineer Billy Markus, who had previously created a cryptocurrency called Bells. After Palmer and Markus introduced Dogecoin in December 2013, it was embraced by pockets of Reddit, where news of the meme coin proliferated.
Cryptocurrency, including Dogecoin, has been criticized for the enormous amount of energy required to “mine” it. While people don’t physically mine cryptocurrency, computers have to solve complex mathematical problems and run for a very long time to create a virtual coin. Some estimates suggest it takes more energy to run bitcoin mining operations than it does to power certain countries.
Dogecoin isn’t mined as much as bitcoin, so its environmental impact probably isn’t comparable. But as it becomes more popular, more people will want to mine it, and the same problem persists.
How did Dogecoin become popular?
Dogecoin has been a hot topic on Reddit for several years. It’s had some mainstream moments, too: in 2014, for example, a group of Redditors raised roughly $30,000 in Dogecoin to send the Jamaican Bobsled Team to the Winter Olympics in Sochi. But Dogecoin’s biggest breakthrough was during the stonks fiasco of January 2021, when a group of redditors on r/wallstreetbets decided to pump up GameStop’s stock. After the focus around GameStop subsided, a group of Redditors pivoted to pumping Dogecoin. Elon Musk tweeted his support for Dogecoin, boosting its value even further.
Musk has made many Dogecoin mentions since, mainly on Twitter but most recently on Saturday Night Live. So of all the cryptocurrencies SpaceX could have highlighted for a lunar mission, it makes sense the company is transacting with Dogecoin.
What’s DOGE-1 going to do?
To be honest, we don’t really know.
Beyond payment, details on the mission are still very thin. Though the satellite will probably be sent into lunar orbit, it’s unclear what the spacecraft will do once it gets there. According to a press release from GEC, “the payload will obtain lunar-spatial intelligence from sensors and cameras on-board with integrated communications and computational systems.” The Planetary Society has reached out to SpaceX and GEC for further explanation on what this means.
We do know that “digital art” and “space plaques” will be involved somehow. Elon Musk wrote on Twitter the mission will include the “first meme in space,” but SpaceX and GEC haven’t indicated what this will entail or how it’ll be materialized. There could be some sort of reference to Dogecoin going “to the moon,” a phrase its supporters use to describe Dogecoin’s value skyrocketing.
It’s also possible that SpaceX will try, as Musk has previously said, to actually put a Dogecoin on the Moon. Since Dogecoin isn’t tangible, like a dollar or penny, it’s anyone’s guess as to how or if it’ll happen.
It’s a lot to take in. As Shibe would probably agree, all we can say for now is “wow.”