This is a box built and used by American rocket pioneer Robert H. Goddard in experiments in 1916 to determine the amount of magnesium flash powder to be carried in a unmanned rocket to strike the surface of the Moon to signal its arrival. At that time, it was unknown if radio signals could extend into deep space.
Goddard calculated that 2.6 lbs (1.2 kg) of flash powder was needed for the rocket to be "just visible" and 13.8 lbs (6.2 kg) was needed for the flash to be "strikingly visible." He wrote up the experiment treatise, A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes in 1919, which showed that if the rocket were developed and used stages, it was theoretically capable of a flight to the Moon. The box was donated in 1965 to the Smithsonian by Mrs. R.H. Goddard.