• ‘Aku,’ a black astronaut, is the first NFT artwork to travel to space

  • Aku, a young Black astronaut character, was beam into space and transported to the International Space Station. What’s next? His NFT collectors shaped a feature film.

    Micah Johnson, a former Major League Baseball player, created the character Aku in response to his four-year-old nephew’s question to his mother, “Can astronauts be Black?”

    Since first appearing in NFT artwork in February, the character has struck a chord with fans and collectors. “It’s a form of representation that I think is palatable for kids to be able to see what’s possible in space, science, and beyond that,” Johnson said in an interview with us.

    Aku has recently crossed a new frontier: artwork of the character was sent to a server on the International Space Station (ISS), orbited the Earth, and then returned home.

    It’s being billed as the first piece of NFT artwork to travel to space, and the single-edition piece will be available for purchase next Tuesday, August 10, via the NFT marketplace Notables. The process was completed in collaboration with Artemis Music and Nanorocks, the latter of which operates the Bishop Airlock, the International Space Station’s first privately-owned commercial infrastructure.

    According to Artemis Music, the video source file for the new Aku NFT was beamed on July 28 from Nanoracks mission control in Houston, Texas, to the server on the International Space Station. The file remained on the server while the station orbited the Earth before being returned to the planet just under two hours later. To authenticate the process, telemetry and transmission data were kept and are now part of the NFT’s smart contract on the Ethereum blockchain.

    In a statement, Artemis Music Entertainment co-founder Bob Richards said, “Aku became the first NFT artwork to be flown to the International Space Station and orbit the Earth on July 28th, 2021.” “Our Artemis Space Network test, which was conducted in collaboration with Nanoracks, was a world first in providing commercial space access, paving the way for a new era of music and entertainment industry connectivity to outer space.”

    An NFT is similar to a deed of ownership to almost any type of digital items, such as a video file, still artwork, video game item, or music recording. A tokenized recording of composer Claude Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” was sent to the ISS alongside the upcoming Aku NFT, making it the first music NFT to travel to space and back. That NFT could be auctioned off later.

    According to Richards, the purpose of this transmission test was to “prove out communications protocols and the process of minting digital work into an NFT that would be meaningful, valid, and authentic.” In other words, these could be the first of many digital creations to travel to space before becoming NFTs.

    All net proceeds from the Aku NFT sale will go to Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS), with half of the donation going to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and the organization’s minority outreach efforts.

    “Anything is possible,” says the author.

    Johnson’s initial Aku NFT drops in February drew a large number of collectors, resulting in a total of $2 million in sales on Nifty Gateway between an open NFT artwork drop and NFTs paired with physical sculptures. A pair of additional Aku NFT drops brought the total sales to $1.27 million, and the next piece in the set has now traveled to space ahead of its auction.

    “The process that goes into it is pretty incredible. You had [Jeff] Bezos and [Richard] Branson going into space, and now we’re sending a Black space character to the space station. Johnson told us, “I think that’s really powerful.” “It really speaks to what I’m trying to convey to Aku, which is that anything is possible.”

    There’s more in store for Aku as well. Anonymous Content and Permanent Content, the latter a new production company formed by musician Shawn Mendes and manager Andrew Gertler, optioned the character for film and television projects in April. Aku is said to be the first NFT creation to have been optioned for other entertainment projects.

    Johnson is leveraging the NFT-centric community that has sprung up around his crypto-native artwork to give collectors and fans the opportunity to contribute to the development of the Aku intellectual property ahead of the film’s release. He recently sold a programmable piece of NFT artwork called “Hi, my name is” through Christie’s auction, which allows the buyer to choose the name of Aku’s friend who will be a part of the film world.

    He told us that he is considering other ways to involve the community even more, including the use of a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) to govern intellectual property decisions. It could include a leadership council of select NFT owners who would decide on content proposals and ensure consistency despite the possibility of a large group of fans participating.

    “What could be more powerful than directly allowing fans to participate in the growth and expansion of that IP? “I never considered anything like this when I released Aku: I just felt like this character needed to be released into the world,” Johnson explained. “How can we grow the audience, as well as the Aku brand and message, to the point where we can potentially direct distribute a film to them?” That’s the coolest part.”

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