Nothing attracts conspiracy theories like a SpaceX launch. From UFO sightings at failed launches to rumors of corporate espionage, all kinds of speculation have been cast at the enigmatic Elon Musk and his sometimes secretive private space program. After Musk and co. recently launched the first Falcon Heavy rocket into space carrying Musk’s red Tesla roadster and its supposed empty spacesuit driver, the internet realized that, well, you know there could be a body in that suit and we’d never know. But come on, would Elon do something like that? I mean, if anyone had the cojones to put a dead body in orbit on live TV, it’s that dude. The Falcon Heavy launch didn’t just contain the empty spacesuit, though. Riding along beside the convertible was a disc of quartz crystal containing a hologram upon which was etched a massive library of data encoded using some of the most advanced storage methods possible, all designed to last billions of years. Strangest of all, no one really knows what exactly is written on them.
The disc is part of what is being called the Arch, created by the The Arch Mission Foundation, a non-profit group which states their goal is to “permanently archive human knowledge for thousands to billions of years. We exist to preserve and disseminate humanity’s knowledge across time and space, for the benefit of future generations.” To do this, the foundation helped develop a “5D optical storage” method using discs of quartz crystals inscribed with laser nanostructuring to create a freaking hologram inside the structure of the crystal disc. Yeah, we’re living in the future. These discs will be readable 14 billion years and can hold 360 terabytes of data, or around 7,000 Blu-Ray discs.
According to the Arch foundation, the first arch disc contains Isaac Asimov’s Foundation, an epic series of deeply philosophical science-fiction novels. Throughout those novels, the protagonist seeks to preserve humanity’s knowledge in the face of an impending galactic disaster. The Arch Mission foundation says that we live in an uncertain age where planetary chaos and disaster seems ever more likely. Thus, the need to preserve the collected knowledge of humankind is dire. And, of course, shoot it into space on a really big rocket that goes boom. Oh, and in the most American fashion possible, by putting it orbit alongside a red convertible piloted by a single spacesuit, making it the most conspicuous thing in space possible:
This Arch library will orbit the Sun for at least millions of years alongside Elon’s Tesla Roadster. The Roadster will likely be the oddest object in the solar system, and thus is the perfect place to put an Arch library so that it can be noticed and retrieved in the distant future.
Of course, it might just look like a rock to any passing aliens. It is made of metals. While the goals of the Arch Mission Foundation sounds well-intentioned (at least on the surface), calling any set of data the “collected knowledge of humankind” makes you really wonder who chose what to include in that library and what not to. The group’s founder has stated he wants to “put Wikipedia in space.” Sounds great. I’m sure the Pirahã people of the Amazon will love having their entire existence being summed up in 1600 words. The photos on the “crew” page of the foundation’s website don’t exactly represent the collective demographics of the entire human race, if you know what I mean.
It also makes you wonder what could be on those discs that we don’t know about. The entire Foundation series wouldn’t take up more than a few hundred megabytes, tops. What about the other hundreds of terabytes? Is some group trying to seed space with a very specific vision of what human knowledge should be preserved in space and create a new human civilization where you can, I don’t know, marry your attractive cousins? Is Elon Musk trying to send a message to his home planet after landing here and benevolently giving us the technology of the future like Thomas Jerome Newton in The Man Who Fell to Earth? Is he going to fly away with all our water?
I mean, if anyone is an alien, it’s that dude. It’s like he’s not even trying to hide it anymore. Or at least a Bond villain who hasn’t had his horrific accident that turns him evil yet. We’re still just living in his origin story.