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Going where no sign shop has gone before, the first extraterrestrial FASTSIGNS® franchise has opened on the lunar surface. Located not far from the original Apollo 11 moon landing site, FASTSIGNS® Sea of Tranquility was the brainchild of Edwin Drake, a Ballston, Spa. N.Y., businessman who had never been in space or operated a print facility before. “My background is in professional duck husbandry,” said Drake. “Then, I don’t know what happened, the ducks started doing it for themselves and business plummeted.” From those depths, Drake knew there was only one direction to go: up. “After an evening commiserating with a bottle of Jameson’s and a large mallard, I passed out in a field. When I awoke, it was after midnight, with a full moon directly overhead. And I thought, ‘I know! I’ll open some kind of business on the moon!’ I’ve had crazier ideas while drunk. Like duck husbandry.”
The question then became what kind of business to take to the lunar surface. “I first thought about a pizza shop, but then I read somewhere that Domino’s was planning to open a location on the moon, so I didn’t want to get into a whole competitive thing straight away,” said Drake. It turned out that Drake’s brother-in-law owned a FASTSIGNS® franchise and said signmaking was a fast-growing business.
It took some persuading—FASTSIGNS® corporate, banks, NASA—but last October, FASTSIGNS® Sea of Tranquility opened its doors—although not literally, as all the air would be sucked out. The first few months were not without their challenges. “We have two Mimakis, a Roland, and an HP Latex and we found the biggest challenge was getting inkjet printers to work in gravity that is 16.6 percent that of Earth,” said Drake. “FASTSIGNS® has great franchise support so we did some brainstorming and came up with the idea of using centripetal force to simulate gravity. So we constructed these large circular rigs for each of the printers and when they’re running, we spin them around. We have to create custom centripetal acceleration profiles because each printer—and in fact each substrate—requires a different rotational velocity for optimal printing. Still, it’s easier than color management.”
The biggest surprise was finding the remnants of the first moon landing near his facility. “Since I only believe what I read on the Internet, I had always thought the moon landing was a hoax,” said Drake. “But there it all was.” His first project was to reprint the American flag left by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. “With all the UV radiation and no atmosphere up here, the red, white, and blue was pretty faded. It looks really good now.”
As for customers, Drake admits that he doesn’t get too much walk-in traffic. “Most of our work is for other astronauts. You should see the outside of the International Space Station. We’ve really tarted it up.” Soft signage was preferred over a rigid material, primarily to keep the station’s fuel use low. Drake said he really had to pay close attention to the installation of the space station’s exterior graphics. “People think the ISS orbits in the vacuum of space, but at 250 miles up, it’s still technically in the Earth’s atmosphere and atmospheric particles are still hitting it. Plus it’s traveling at 17,000 miles an hour, so you really need good sign installation. You don’t want to have to do an EVA every time a seam comes loose or something.”
Now that FASTSIGNS® Sea of Tranquility is up and running, is Drake thinking of expanding?
“Well, there’s Mars, of course,” said Drake. “But for FASTSIGNS® Mars we’d have to get a printer that has red ink.”
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