CAPE CANAVERAL, FL—Officials at the Kennedy Space Center announced Tuesday that they have set Aug. 6 as the date for launching $700 million from the Denarius IV spacecraft, the largest and most expensive mission to date in NASA's unmanned monetary-ejection program.
"This is an exciting opportunity to study the effect of a hard-vacuum, zero-gravity environment on $50 and $100 bills," said NASA Administrator Michael Griffin, who noted that prior Project Denariusmissions only studied space's effect on fives and singles. "Whether the money is immediately incinerated because of hard radiation, or freezes in the near-absolute-zero temperature and shatters into infinitesimal pieces, or drifts aimlessly through the cosmos before being sucked through a black hole into another dimension, it will provide crucial information for our next series of launches, which will consist of even greater sums of money, in larger denominations."
Denarius IV, the fourth in a series of unmanned monetary-dispersal probes, will leave Earth's atmosphere at 36,500 miles per hour—the highest velocity at which money has ever departed the planet.
Said Project Denarius lead scientist Dr. Lou Weaver: "The craft's time-release hatches, using cutting-edge ATM money-ejecting technology, will systematically discharge the currency at intervals of $50,000 every three seconds. Cameras on the craft's exterior will capture images of the bills as they majestically pirouette into the heavens, dotting the black void of space with elegant spirals of green." Until now, the image of money floating in space was available only through artists' renderings.
Far more ambitious in scope than the previous missions of $88 million, $110 million, and $375 million, Denarius IV is a two-stage spacecraft. Its solar probe, Croesus, will disengage from the main craft in October and release $12 million into the sun. The craft, with its remaining payload of $688 million, will travel across the solar system, reaching Jupiter by June 2007. Once there, it will eject the money from the cargo bay in what will be the largest single financial deployment in NASA history.
"This is just another step in our long-term goal to put $1 billion on Mars," Weaver added.
NASA is continuing to perform extensive endurance tests on portions of the $700 million, including acclimating it to extreme atmospheric pressure by deploying a sample stack of $200 million to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean; strengthening its resilience in high-temperature conditions by sealing it in airtight containers and lowering them into the lava flow of Hawaii's Mauna Loa; and replicating the high-acceleration environment of space travel by shooting bundles of dimes out of magnetic-rail accelerators at thousands of feet per second into giant axial fans.
Some in the private sector are attempting their own currency-expelling spaceflights, including Virgin CEO Richard Branson, whose Virgin Galactic plans to eject £2 million from the still-theoretical SpaceShipThree orbital aircraft. Yet Griffin felt confident that NASA is far ahead of its private counterparts and rival state-run space agencies, saying that Project Denarius will be the "jewel in the crown" of taxpayer-financed space exploration.
Although polls indicate that a majority of Americans support the NASA mission, some fear a repeat of 2003's Denarius III disaster, in which hundreds of thousands of dollars burned up in Earth's atmosphere when the ship exploded shortly after leaving the launchpad. Reports suggest that one of the craft's solid-gold money clips failed during liftoff.
NASA officials dismissed the risk, saying that, should the mission fail, the lost money could be replaced by any of the other stores of $700 million the agency has in reserve, and that the mission could be re-launched as early as January 2007.