Mar 08, 2019 I Brett Tingley

SpaceX Just Launched a ‘Civilization Backup’ Library to the Moon

We all know the world of men will end someday. It could be tomorrow or it could be thousands of years from now - either way, it's pretty clear by now that our time on Earth is limited. Will a man-made catastrophe like nuclear or biological warfare, climate change, or resource depletion bring about our demise, or will natural disasters, an astronomical impact event, or the evolution of a new superbug wipe out humanity?

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Let’s not fool ourselves. We all know the machines will soon crush our collective skull under their cold, metal feet.

Whatever the cause is, the histories of our planet and its life show us that all things must pass. Humanity is ultimately just a blip on the unimaginably long life of the spaceship we call Earth, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try and preserve our knowledge and civilizations for future beings or intelligent machines to learn from. With that in mind, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit called the Arch Mission Foundation has set out to create a “civilization backup” which would outlive humanity in the event of a species-wide catastrophe. The first version of this backup was sent to the moon last week.

The “Lunar Library,” as the civilization backup is known, consists of 30 million pages of information etched onto tiny metallic discs packed into a container the size of a DVD and is being hailed as "the first library on another celestial body." The disc was carried aboard the privately-funded Israeli Beresheet spacecraft which was launched towards the moon aboard a SpaceX rocket on February 22nd. The archive is meant to be an encyclopedia of human knowledge, containing over 200 gigabytes of information such as the entire English-language version of Wikipedia, thousands of works of literature, nonfiction, and textbooks, and a “Rosetta Stone” consisting of 5,000 human languages and the means to translate between them.

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A SpaceX Falcon launching from Vandenberg AFB in 2017.

The Arch Mission Foundation says their Lunar Library is intended to preserve the best parts of humanity to ensure any future humans don’t make the same mistakes we do (here’s a hint: don’t build artificial intelligence). “One of the primary evolutionary challenges that we face is amnesia about our past mistakes, and the lack of active countermeasures to repeating them,” an Arch Mission Foundation spokesperson told NBC news. “For the survival of our species, we need to find ways to raise our awareness of what worked and didn't work, and we need to ensure it is shared with the people of the future.”

Nearly exactly a year ago, the Arch Mission Foundation sent a similar payload aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy. Do they know something we don’t, or is this merely a group of simultaneously pessimistic and optimistic well-wishers?

Time will tell. It's too bad we won't be here to see if future civilizations can avoid the same mistakes we've made.

Brett Tingley

Brett Tingley is a writer and musician living in the ancient Appalachian mountains.

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