The Studio

Kickstarter and Lunar Mission One

With the call to action "a new lunar mission for everyone" the Kickstarter campaign secured the funds to begin the journey of mankind's first international exploration of space


The Campaign

Kickstarter brought supporters from over 60 countries around the world to back Lunar Mission One

The first Kickstarter campaign laid the foundation for what I and all its supporters hoped would be a ten year endeavour into the vacuum of space. The project was funded by the public and fired by an insatiable thirst for knowledge about our world and nearest neighbour.

"Lunar Mission One planned to bring space exploration to us all. A truly exciting scientific endeavour – one that promised new insights into the ancient history of the Moon and an understanding of its relationship with our own planet. For children, young people and adults alike, there are few things more capable of inspiring wonder than the mysteries of space.

Lunar Mission One had the potential to rekindle our wonder about our closest neighbour, the Moon, which still holds so many secrets. This Mission dared to remind us that some of the most interesting questions yet to be answered about space, can be answered this close to home. Lunar Mission One encouraged us to wonder about our own place in time, as part of the history and future of the Universe."

Stephen Hawking

Lunar Mission One Touchdown
The images above were created by the Lunar Mission One team.

Criticism of Lunar Mission One

On 26 January 2019, three years nine months after the Kickstarter campaign, an announcement was made halting the project. The following is my response.

A Failure of Judgment, Transparency, and Communication

Introduction and Background

Lunar Mission One was an inspirational venture that tapped into a groundswell of passion and interest in the prospect of shared space exploration. I met some fabulous people during the campaign, and I was moved by the force of enthusiasm, commitment, and hope for the project. It's failure, in my view, was due to a woeful lack of interaction and transparency from the project management with its supporters, and poor judgments over its methods, choices of resourcing and web design which was critical to the project's viability.

As one of 7,297 Kickstarter supporters, I made a financial contribution to the project. Along with twenty three other individual backers I made the highest pledge, not primarily for the rewards listed, but because I viewed Lunar Mission One as a unique opportunity that had the potential of bringing people of different backgrounds, ages, cultures, and beliefs from across the world together in a shared endeavour. Those backing the campaign included experts from a dizzying range of disciplines and backgrounds that were willing and able to help make the project a success. I was among the most active voluntary contributors during the Lunar Mission One Kickstarter campaign and their first year of activity, and I enjoyed the highest community ranking on the Lunar Mission One forum.

I have not disclosed my financial contribution to the project publicly until now as I was keen to be viewed of as one of the community. I did not wish for the level of my pledge to alter any responses that I might receive in my interactions with other supporters. I do so now so those supporters reading have an opportunity to gain a more complete understanding of how Lunar Mission One acted with its backers, irrespective of the scale of their financial or voluntary contributions.

At the inaugural supporter event held at the Royal Society in London in May 2015, I presented a large artwork I had created for the community to the project management team to care for on the supporter's behalf. At my expense, I also gave a block of acrylic glass with a copy of the artwork to each of the six members of the Lunar Mission Trust. I did so in the hope my gifts would strengthen the link between the trust members and the project supporters.

Growing Concerns

I suspect the most essential phrase in the Kickstarter terms that convinces others to use its platform is:

"When a project is successfully funded, the creator must complete the project and fulfill each reward."

While the statement from Lunar Mission One seeks to persuade backers it carried out its commitments, sadly, it did not do so in good time, nor in the spirit of the pledges it made.

My first concerns about the delivery of the project arose with the "certificate of thanks". It was nine months before a PDF document eventually arrived from Lunar Mission One who may have 'fulfilled' its Kickstarter commitment, but the delay, execution, and lack of care over its presentation and design was a clear indicator of the team's weakness in fulfilling its pledges appropriately.

The certificate was important as this constituted the first example of the project's fulfillment of personal pledges to the vast majority of its supporters. As Lunar Mission One could not even manage this simple task promptly or with any concern for quality, questions arose about their ability to step up to the far more complex challenges that lay ahead.

Nevertheless, I created this website to share my commitment to the project and what I hoped would be my journey with its community.

I created artworks and music free of charge that were also used by Lunar Mission One in their public presentations, and a few months later I was invited to join the team as the project's lead creative by the project's founder. I made it clear from the outset that if I was to assume a more formal role in the project I wanted things to change for the better, and that I did not wish to receive any money for my work. This would ensure I would continue to speak freely and without any conflict of interest when expressing the views of project supporters whom I felt were under-represented.

Before my first meeting with the management team in London I expressed concerns about the low level of interaction with project supporters together with other discussion points:

http://www.lunarmission.gallery/download/LM1TheChallengeOfCollaboration.pdf

Immediately following the meeting I declined their offer to join in a formal capacity and expressed my continued misgivings about some members of the team who seemed disdainful of my desire to encourage community involvement as a crucial component that would ensure the commercial viability of the project.

I was astonished at the lack of care, attention, and professionalism given to the development of Lunar Mission One's online presence and marketing, but was assured the team had listened carefully to my concerns together with those of the community, and that positive action would follow. An editor in chief was appointed who would immediately address the issues of updates and communication together with some of the pledge commitments that were made for the Kickstarter campaign. I was informed that a series of newsletters, website features and videos would soon follow. This was relatively straightforward and cost effective to achieve, however the new content in the promised form failed to materialize.

Progress on the website was painfully slow, and once the 'new' site was eventually available it looked remarkably like the old one. In truth, it was identical except for some minor functional changes and a web store that was available for a relatively short period. In my view the costs spent on such an uninspired website were waisted. The site was no where near the quality it needed to be, nor with the quantity of new content that was required given the scale of the project. The website performed poorly with infrequent updates despite repeated requests from the community and forum members, and there were negligible interactions with Lunar Mission One staff. Once again, I made my views known to the project team.

Loss of Community Support

The frustration of those who contributed during the early stages immediately following the Kickstarter campaign ended with a gradual but inevitable withdrawal of interest as there was little evidence of any genuine commitment to interact. There were many words of assurance and reassurance of how important the community was to the project, but scant action. I continued to voice my concerns with the team, and every now and again I was assured action would be taken "in the next few days"...

My observation of the higher management team was that they were evasive and held a corporate mindset that was fundamentally at odds with the needs of a community intensive project. My overall impression is that the project team viewed themselves as executives and managers who expected others to do the work. They appeared to understand their roles solely as strategic and presentational. Their overwhelming instinct was to delegate, and their oversight was lacking.

The pledged newsletters were infrequent at best during the six months that followed, and the pledged Lunar Missions Club with regular monthly updates and features never really took off. For 2016, 2017, and 2018 the only meaningful communication from the project to the majority of its supporters was a single update at the start of each year. Although Twitter and Facebook have been used to broadcast related information, social media channels have been used primarily as a means to demonstrate the project's interaction and active presence, rather than as a genuine channel that encouraged meaningful participation. While social media can be used for short conversations and statements, it is not well suited for lengthy and detailed community exchanges as the dedicated membership website that was promised would have offered.

The Project's Closure

Lunar Mission One published a summary of accounts on their website. For your information I repeat it here:

£672,000.00 in total was pledged at Kickstarter.
£11,000.00 of which were unpaid pledges.
£54,000.00 was withheld as Kickstarter fees.

£607,000.00 was therefore raised and the breakdown of costs as shown on the project's expenditure report follow:

£222,000.00 Marketing and Communication.
£166,000.00 Business Project Management.
£99,000.00 Legal Fees.
£62,000.00 Crowdfunding Delivery.
£32,000.00 Events.
£18,000.00 Website Development.
£8,000.00 Office and Finance.

A VAT demand from the UK government of around £90,000.00 is currently in dispute.

My personal view is that their costs were far too high, especially for marketing and communication, business project management, and website development, none of which represented good value for money. Note especially how very poor the project was in communication, and how this represented one of their greatest costs.

Turning to the project's statement for the future, the 'Ark of Life' seems to be used as a means to soften criticism, rather than as a genuine call to action. This element of the project is being handed over to anyone who might support it, rather than as an ongoing initiative led by the project team. Once again, there is much talk and little action. Far better that the management of Lunar Mission One simply closes the project in its entirety rather than pretending it continues to support elements of it in principle.

As a high-level Kickstarter contributor I was invited to an update in London following the first event, and as another supporter has mentioned, there were no follow up emails as to why no other meeting occurred. From the successful Kickstarter phase, the bare minimum of effort has been made to contact those who had backed the project to keep them informed about its progress. The first I became aware of its closure was through the Kickstarter message of 25 January 2019, and this is yet another example of a general lack of courtesy, care, and professionalism.

In common with others, my contributions to the Lunar Mission One forum were removed without any notification, despite the community's significant effort in generating content. This is another example of my misgivings of the management team who routinely failed to think or act carefully out of respect for the community who had originally backed the project at Kickstarter.

These issues are important, not because of the project team's actions relating to me, but because it demonstrates a culture of carelessness. It is reasonable to suppose this extended more generally in Lunar Mission One's communications with commercial interests and the science community as Lunar Mission One sought to build support and drive the project forward. The issues I raise throughout this narrative are indicators of poor practice.

Kickstarter backers are well aware a project of this scale and ambition has a high risk of not succeeding. It is not that it failed, but the reasons for its failure that so many have been so thoroughly disappointed.

The Kickstarter update of 11 February utterly failed to recognize why the community of supporters are angered by those who steered Lunar Mission One into the rocks. It is because of their failure of transparency about their progress, their choices of allocating resources, and their lack of apology for constant delays and shortfalls in their meeting of Kickstarter pledges.

In my view Lunar Mission One's most serious error however was to not appreciate through their duty of care those thousands of supporters who gave their enthusiasm and money in pursuit of a dream.

There are many outside the inner circle who "worked hard without reward" and gave "large amounts of personal cash and unpaid time". Personal effort and sacrifice is required for anything worth while. Lunar Mission One trust members volunteered for their roles, and made personal decisions about their own commitment, just as each backer did. I believe it was another error of judgment to appeal for understanding or sympathy in this way in the update of 11 February, and this shows a somewhat self-centred approach to explaining the project's difficulties. The failure of the project to deliver its pledges in a transparent, timely, and professional manner is the central concern many have expressed, and these areas are distinct from any personal effort project members may have made.

I note all that I say here so there is a detailed public record of an alternative narrative to the one presented by Lunar Mission One. While I hope my tone has been measured, I hope it has also been clear in its criticism of the project. In this it may also serve to illustrate the importance transparency and partnership play in any large scale community backed venture.

To close on a more positive note, I for one have chosen to rekindle my fascination and interest in our closest orbital companion, and I plan to return to creating work that will be published on the gallery later this year.

My good wishes go to all those who genuinely tried their hardest to make the project a success with care, enthusiasm, and attention: those on the team, volunteers, and backers. You know who you are. Thank you!

Mike
20 February 2019

Loading