Before Ethereum, Before Bitcoin, Years Before Any Cryptocurrency Existed

There Were Lunar Tank Notes! Real Moon Money!

I had always wanted to be a space man. When I was just a kid back in the 1950's I read everything I could find about space. I remember that blurry black and white picture in one of the old Mechanics' magazines showing the curve of the earth taken, I think, by a rocket that went straight up and then came straight back down--a commandeered German V2 with some smaller rocket stuck on top.

When sputnik started going around the world, the neighbor kids and I would go out at night looking for it. A friend of my dad was a ham radio operator and we squeezed into his “shack” one night where he fired up his radio and we waited and then listened in awe when the “beep beep beep” sound suddenly come in over the static and then dropped in pitch as it went overhead and quickly faded out over the horizon.

Later, the first Echo satalloon brought the whole neighborhood out to watch the sky! The entire block would take on a party atmosphere at dusk as kids would run and play while moms and dads talked about whatever was important to them that day. Snacks and drinks would be brought out and shared while fingers would point to the sky and everyone would comment and try to figure out where and what they were looking at and everyone would be asking me questions about it. A couple of years later I learned about polar orbits watching the sky for Echo II.
My  mom and dad got me a small telescope back then and we would set it up and try to follow the bright satellite as it moved across the sky but no one could ever keep it pointed long enough to see anything as it passed over.

I'd search for mentions of the X-15 flights in the newspaper usually showing up weeks after the fact. Sometimes there would even be a picture. I was fascinated by the small rockets used for attitude control when the air was too thin for wings. The landing skids instead of wheels somehow made it seem really futuristic, too.

Then, when the Mercury flights started, I remember getting up at 3 am and watching for hours before school just to hear the launch scrubbed for another day. I wondered how Alan Shepherd could sit there for so long and not have to go to the bathroom. I asked my mom but she shushed me with a proud “They're astronauts! They can do anything!” Of course I believed her and wondered if I could learn how, too, but I wasn't an astronaut yet and had to run off and go to the bathroom during those long waits. Years later I found out that he didn't wait either.

Later, during the Gemini program, a friend and I built a full sized mockup of the Gemini capsule in the back of his dad's garage and, in August of 1966 between the flights of Gemini X and Gemini XI, we climbed in, closed the hatches, and simulated a 24 hour flight – complete with Tang, dried out toothpaste, sandwiches rolled flat to avoid crumbs, and a homemade device for peeing that didn't work as well as we would have liked. We had built an intercom between our ship and his home and his mom was the CapCom. We had bags for poop but could not bring ourselves to use them. I understand the real astronauts hated them also.

But it was the stories about the future in the magazines and paperbacks that really got me going. In those stories people didn't just go up for a few minutes stuffed in a tiny capsule, they lived and ate and slept and played in space in giant ships that went to far and exotic places! I would be a space man someday too, I knew!

Ivars in the pilot seat of the full scale Gemini spacecraft mockup in 1966.

Ivars in the pilot seat of the full scale Gemini spacecraft mockup in 1966

Everything was happening so quickly back then that I knew by the time I grew up we would have spaceships full of people flying to all of the planets and maybe even the stars. I knew I would have a home on Mars someday. I just knew it and I couldn't wait!  Sadly, it was not to be.

Apollo came and went, people got interested in other things, and we entered into a long drought of exploration. The Space Shuttle would fly to and from orbit many times but it just didn't have the excitement of those exploration missions landing all over the surface of the moon for the first times.

During the 1970's and 1980's I worked in areas as diverse as software, electronics, health care, optics, and entertainment – on the west coast, the east coast, and several places in between -  and was involved in early digital film and music production but kept hoping that someday – soon – we would get off our butts and get back to setting our sights on the stars again. For real this time

In 1992 I found myself in Austin, Texas. I had come down to apply for a project which did not happen but decided to stay anyway. Sharing my thoughts and dreams about traveling to the stars with friends I came to the realization that they weren't going to happen with what was left of the country's space programs, that a completely new approach was going to be needed and I started looking into what could be done privately and commercially.

It seemed to me that we had to get  back to the moon to stay for any hope of creating something sustainable in the longer term. The moon and asteroids had riches beyond avarice just sitting there and energy from the sun was abundant in both cases but the moon provided more and easier opportunities.

Another resource was the left over Apollo hardware that had been built but never been used when the remaining flights in the program were canceled. I was staying with friends and didn't know too many people in town yet and had no source of income so it was going to take some creative thinking.

The project I came up with was to mount an entirely commercial flight to the moon using the leftover Saturn V/Apollo from the canceled Apollo XVIII mission. The hardware was still intact and the expertise was still out there. It would be presented as a celebration of free enterprise! My thought was that selling advertising space on the side of the Saturn Rocket would bring in significant funds alone but if at least one of the astronauts was an actor they could bring products instead of instruments to the moon and sell minutes of live advertising for those products on the moon to more than pay for the entire cost of the mission.

Although this would bring in seed money,  because it relied on opportunistic availability of technology it would not be sustainable. Thinking longer term, an ongoing, self-sufficient, economically viable and independent enterprise based on the Earth's moon seemed a more realistic goal. From a human perspective a location with that kind of separation from matters on Earth is ideal for private discussions or negotiations and it can provide entertainment, status, rest, and relaxation of a kind not possible anywhere else.  Considering the availability of raw materials for construction, manufacturing, and export, as well as a steady supply of easily harnessed energy, the moon takes on the aspects of untouched prime real estate. I felt that an established base on the moon had to be independent of Earth and two of the concerns were how to set up the local economy and how to establish independence. 

“I felt that the people that accomplished this will be in a better economic position in the next century than the people who created the railroads at the turn of the last one.”
(from the Moon Mine Enterprise description document)

At the time politics on Earth was shifting to a post cold war footing and the industries that serviced the military aerospace sector were looking for something new to do.  At the same time, the people in the space industries of the former Soviet Union, one of the countries that led the world in space achievements, were desperate to have someone buy their facilities, components, and expertise for pennies on the dollar.

A strategy to focus all of this in a single profitable endeavor was to construct and make available for hire a private resort on the moon.  This created the infrastructure needed to ongoingly transport and maintain groups of people to, on, and from the moon on a profitable basis and established a base from which to expand into other related areas in the future.

The human world revolves around economics and the primary tool of economics is money. Creating a currency for use on the moon not only provided the basis for internal trade but was also an opportunity to establish a de facto recognition of independence from Earth.

At the time I wanted the notes to represent some real asset. The most important asset on the moon was air and thus “Tank Notes” were born. Each unit of currency represented a tank of air and, like notes that could be traded in for gold on Earth, each note could be traded in for a tank of air. There were discussions of using mathematical trapdoor functions to sign and authenticate each note and match it with a unique tank of air to keep things honest and to help prevent counterfeiting.

Moon Mine Enterprise Logo

Moon Mine Enterprise Logo & Letterhead

Those tanks, of course, had to be filled on Earth and this is what the Moon Mine Enterprise set out to do. The interesting question to answer, however, was if the air was being mined or if it came from a well. Interesting because this was a “backdoor” opportunity to gain de facto recognition of being an independent extraterrestrial entity.

In Texas, both mines and wells are regulated by the Texas Railroad Commission and the two have different rules, bureaucracies, and permit requirements. I felt that if Texas would issue a permit to an extra-terrestrial enterprise it would be a tacit recognition of its independence by a state government of the US. To that end a lunch meeting with an attorney from the Railroad Commission, myself, and a friend I was working with (who arranged the meeting) was set up in Seguin, Texas. After first driving by the city hall to admire the statue of the world’s largest pecan (some towns have statues of great warriors or statesman, Seguin has a nut!), we ate and had a serious preliminary discussion over the details and issues which went on for a couple of hours. The meeting ended on a positive note and was going to be continued as more progress was made.
Worlds Largest Pecan statue in front of Seguin City Hall.
Worlds Largest Pecan Statue in front of City Hall in Seguin, TX. photo ŠLezlie K. King CCA 3.0 Unported license
Lunar Tank Note Mockup
Tank Note Design Mockup
At the same time, a sketch of the “Tank Note” was made and a few framed copies of the artwork were sold as collectibles. It is not known if any still exist. A couple mockups of the final note were also created by printing both sides, cutting them to size, and gluing them back to back. I carried one in my wallet for several years until it frayed and a scanned copy of that note is included.

A scan of a Tank Note that was in my wallet for  long time

A scan of a Tank Note that was in my wallet for long time

One evening I stopped to have dinner at the iconic but now sadly gone Austin restaurant “Hut's Hamburgers” on 6th Street. I ate at the bar. When the bill was presented I opened my wallet and offered the restaurant the option of paying in US dollars or with a “Tank Note.” After explaining the story behind the tank notes the restaurant chose to accept the tank note as payment for the meal and thus tank notes were first used in commerce.

Needless to say, Moon Mine Enterprise did not “get off the ground.” Instead of going to the moon as it was built to do the Apollo hardware was dismantled, went to museums, or rusted away, and the people with the needed expertise grew old, retired, and many died. It is now 30 years since that tank note bought dinner and still there is neither a resort on the moon nor has anyone even attempted a trip there. I am heartened with the current successes of the nascent commercial space industry arising over the last decade or so and perhaps Spacex's Starship may finally make that dream come true. When it does and people finally call the moon and beyond their home they will need some kind of currency to mediate commerce and perhaps Tank Notes will be remembered as an early foray into that domain.
The bar inside Hut's Hamburgers where I ate and paid with a Tank Note.
The bar inside Hut's Hamburgers where I ate and paid with a Tank Note. I believe I sat on the 2nd stool just to the left of the person in the photo.

This offering contains the only existing original files from the original archived Moon Mine Enterprise folder:


These files were created on a computer in 1992 most probably running the Microsoft Windows 3.0 operating system. They include several bitmaps of the Tank Note mockups, several short descriptions of the Moon Mine Enterprise in various formats, and Letterhead for Moon Mine Enterprise. I have also included a modern jpeg file of the tank note mockup and pdf's and jpegs of the other files for convenience as well as a scan of a tank note that was in my wallet for a long time. Also included is a pdf of this background story to document provenance.

Note that the .MSP files will not automatically open on modern Windows machines. They were created using the Microsoft Paintbrush software most probably on a Windows 3.0 computer in a format that was in use by Microsoft Paintbrush back in 1992 and later abandoned by Microsoft. Current .MSP files are a different format used for Windows Installer patch files. Do not try to open them by clicking on them on a modern Windows computer as it will not work and may damage your OS and/or applications. There are applications available that can open the old Microsoft Paint files. The .WPD and .WP files were probably created using the WordPerfect version from that time. The .WRI is in the old Microsoft Write format. The .EPS file is the encapsulated Postscript format. There is modern software that can open these formats.

This is a one time offering and only this single copy will ever be made available. Click here to see offering.

Ivars Vilums, April 2021