The biblical story of Noah and his DIY ark filled with two of every animal is familiar to just about everyone, doubted by many, inspiring to ‘historical ark' hunters and a guide for large-scale doomsday preppers like the Svalbard Global Seed Vault on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen which contains a wide variety of plant seeds for the purpose of repopulating the world in the event of mass destruction via natural disaster, manmade holocaust or biblical flood 2.0. However, that’s just for plant seeds. What about animal and human seeds? A team at the University of Arizona has a proposal based on Noah, but with the final destination for the Ark not Mount Ararat but lava tubes on the Moon.
“Earth faces probability of peril from various natural disasters and human threats such as global nuclear war that could wipe out a large number of species in a short time. Lunar lava tubes were discovered in 2013 and are likely to have remained pristine for 3-4 billion years. They are only 4-5 days from Earth. They are an excellent shelter against lunar surface temperature swings, cosmic radiation and micro-meteorites. The Ark would house these endangered species in cryo-conditions of -180 C and colder.”
Well, that intro to a video (watch it here) titled “Lunar Pits and Lava Tubes for a Modern Ark” makes some sense. Presented at the recent IEEE Aerospace Conference, the feasibility study was led by Jekan Thanga, a professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering in the University of Arizona College of Engineering. Thanga and a team of students started with the idea of Noah’s Ark and expanded it to take into account a total annihilation of all life on Earth and a catastrophe that made resettlement impossible. That ruled out an orbiting vault (no place safe to re-land) or a land-based vault since a climate change flood of biblical proportions would cover it and drown the seeds. That left the next closest refuge – the Moon. If Noah’s challenge sounded big, what about Thanga’s ark?
"It's not crazy big. We were a little bit surprised about that."
In a press release, Thanga says transporting 50 samples -- cryogenically frozen seeds, spores, sperm and eggs -- from each of 6.7 million Earth species would take about 250 rocket launches … six times the number it took to build the International Space Station. Would that make rocket builder Elon Musk our new Noah? Well, only for the ark to the Moon. Once there, Thanga describes what structural and cryogenic engineers would need to build in, around and above the lunar lava tubes.
“The team's model for the underground ark includes a set of solar panels on the moon's surface that would provide electricity. Two or more elevator shafts would lead down into the facility, where petri dishes would be housed in a series of cryogenic preservation modules. An additional goods elevator shaft would be used to transport construction material so that the base can be expanded inside the lava-tubes.”
It sounds futuristic, or at least science fiction-ish, until that part about “petri dishes.” Actually, these would be high-tech cryogenic containers that could withstand keeping the seeds and cells at 196 C (minus 320 F) for long periods of time while keeping the packages from getting the cryogenic equivalent of freezer burn so many of us have become familiar with while stockpiling during the pandemic. Finally, if you’re wondering who plays the part of Noah and his staff in this dystopian movie, robots will do the work – moving around on mag-lev tracks.
Can this space-age ark and lunar Mount Ararat really work? Álvaro Díaz-Flores Caminero, a U of A doctoral student on the project thinks so.
“What amazes me about projects like this is that they make me feel like we are getting closer to becoming a space civilization, and to a not-very-distant future where humankind will have bases on the moon and Mars. Multidisciplinary projects are hard due to their complexity, but I think the same complexity is what makes them beautiful.”
Beautiful … and biblical?