Space

The Arch Mission Foundation and Astrobotic plan to send a microfiche library to the moon

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nickel microfiche
Image Credits: Arch Mission Foundation

Earlier this year, the Arch Mission Foundation managed to include a quartz storage device containing Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy on the Tesla Roadster that SpaceX launched towards the sun. At the time, co-founder Nova Spivack said this wasn’t a one-off stunt, but the first step in a bigger plan.

Today, the foundation is revealing more details about those plans, specifically a partnership with commercial space company Astrobotic, which intends to send a mission to the moon in 2020. Once again, Arch Mission (pronounced “ark”) plans to have one of its storage devices, called Arch Libraries, on-board.

This time, the contents won’t be limited to classic science fiction. The foundation said the library will include Wikipedia, as well as the Long Now Foundation’s Rosetta Project, and more.

All of the content will be stored on “nickel microfiche” — the text and images will be etched by laser onto thin sheets of nickel. Spivack told me that nickel should be able to endure the harsh conditions of the moon (“it’s essentially indestructible”), while the microfiche format won’t require a computer to read, just a really powerful optical microscope: “We don’t want to assume in the distant future that somebody has our operating system.”

This lunar library will be stored on the surface of the moon, courtesy of Astrobotic’s Peregrine Lunar Lander. Spivack said the library can also be extended and updated in the future with more storage devices.

The ultimate goal, he said, is “putting these archives of human knowledge around the solar system.”

“In a very long time frame — millions of years — it’s guaranteed that at least some of them will still be there,” he added. “Even if an entire planet has been destroyed, there’s still going to be other planets with other [libraries] on them.”

Spivack said he’d been thinking about “major civilizations that were lost, that we don’t know much about,” and he wanted to leave these libraries as “a great gift to archeologists in the future from people today.”

But he argued that the Arch Libraries will have more immediate benefits as well. For one thing, there’s the inspirational potential: “If you want to be a spacefaring civilization, your civilization is not just your rocket … We want people to be able to look up at the moon and have an Apollo moment, a kind of, ‘Wow, human civilization is now on the moon.’”

Plus, the foundation is working with a number of companies to develop “technologies that can send big data into space.” Those technologies will be important because you can’t rely on Earth for critical information — for example, even at the speed of light, roundtrip messages between Earth and Mars could take nearly an hour.

Of course, one of the assumptions behind Spivack and the Arch Mission Foundation’s work is that we are actually on the cusp of establishing a human presence on Mars and elsewhere in the Solar System.

Asked whether he expects this to happen, Spivack said, “As long as we don’t do something stupid, we should have a permanent base on the moon and on Mars in our lifetime. Things are really starting to inflect, especially because the commercial space industry, the new space movement, is really starting to get its wings — thanks to Elon Musk, Blue Origin and Jeff Bezos, but also others that you might not know about yet.”

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