If you were in possession of documents or artifacts that had to be preserved at all costs, and you were inhabiting a planet with an uncertain future, where would you hide these precious commodities?
Deep underground in a protective bunker? Fathoms under the ocean? Inside a mountain in a secret cave? Preserved within the ice of the polar regions?
Well, the answer is...none of the above.
When you live on a planet with an uncertain future, where plague, nuclear holocaust, lethal asteroid strike, or climate cataclysm are an ever-increasing possibility, it seems that any on-earth storage solutions are just too risky, and therefore it has been necessary to look to the heavens to provide an answer.As one of our nearest celestial neighbours and in possession of a nice, stable environment, the moon has been identified as an ideal choice for an off-earth storage facility.
The idea of lunar storage is not new, though in the past it has been discussed more in terms of finding a depository for unwanted nuclear waste. Now its potential as a reserve for religious, cultural and even genetic data is in question.The project is a commercial rather than government-funded endeavor, that plans to piggyback onto a Google-sponsored space mission competition, the Google Lunar XPRIZE. This is the largest ever incentivized space race of all time, with the ultimate aim of landing a private craft on the Moon.
The winner must land their craft on the Moon's surface, travel for 500 meters (0.3 miles) then send back two "Mooncasts" to Earth, all before December 2015.If the competition successfully manages to inspire and create commercial lunar traffic, this opens up a host of possibilities, including the transport of cultural, religious and biological artifacts or data.
One organisation eagerly awaiting the results of the Lunar XPRIZE is the Tel Aviv-based "Torah on the Moon Project," who, as their name suggests, plan to transport a copy of the sacred text to the moon.
The mission statement on their website reads: "The Torah will be taken to the moon (and secured there in an airtight case) to celebrate the ancient book’s innumerable contributions to morality, justice, education, culture, art and sciences."
The organisation had been putting their bets on SpaceIL, an Israeli-based Google Lunar XPRIZE entrant to convey their precious cargo to the lunar site, but SpaceIL has declined to participate in the project, so Torah on the Moon have approached a Spanish entrant, the Barcelona Moon Team. Ultimately, the group will be happy to utilise the services of any commercial space mission that is willing and capable of transporting their unique payload.
Other ancient texts destined for lunar storage are the Hindu scriptures called the Vedas and the ancient Chinese philosophical work, the I-Ching. It is planned to seal the documents in specially designed capsules designed to give protection from radiation and temperature changes on the moon for at least 10,000 years.
Ed Chester, a spokesperson for the Barcelona Moon Team advisory group, remained tight-lipped about its involvement in the Torah project, but the European Space Agency's engineering arm in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, confirmed recently that it has been commissioned to test the space hardiness of the capsule that will contain the Sefer Torah scroll.
"This is an incredible, beautiful project," says Torah on the Moon founder Paul Aouizerate, an entrepreneur and inventor. "These three texts are among Earth's most ancient documents, created over 3000 years ago. They are significant to billions of people."
Obtaining an authentic copy of the handwritten Torah is no mean feat in itself, and Aouizerate is planning to raise an estimated €12 to €15 million in funding by asking believers to sponsor religious scribes to pen each of the document's 304,805 characters, along with further funding models for the Hindu and Chinese documents.
The plan to launch the ancient texts into space has not been received with enthusiasm in all quarters, however, and some religious experts see it as an act of disrespect:
"The Sefer Torah has unique symbolic value and is nowadays the most sacred object in Judaism," commented Nicholas de Lange, a researcher in Jewish and Hebrew studies at the University of Cambridge. "Such an object is supposed to be treated with extreme respect and care. I find it hard to believe that shooting it into space can fall under this heading."
In fact, the moon already plays host to one religious text: a Bible was left on a moon buggy by Apollo 15 commander David Scott, an act which, at the time, enraged atheists who claimed that religion had no place in impartial federally-funded space missions.
XPRIZE entrants, who do not receive any government funding, see things from a different perspective:
"I don't think these religions are claiming the moon. It's about saving our culture, saving the humanities," says Naveen Jain, CEO of the California-based X Prize hopeful Moon Express, adding that human DNA should also be taken and stored so that "in case of an asteroid strike that wipes us out like the dinosaurs, humanity can be saved."
Jain is not alone in his vision, as it appears that a U.K.-based enterprise has already begun to collate human, animal and plant genomes for lunar storage, and, according Joanne Wheeler, a lawyer specialising in space issues at CMS Cameron McKenna in London, there are many other companies with the same intention:
"There are several missions planned to put religious and spiritual icons on the moon and also to preserve some trace of humanity on it," she said, and confirmed that there were no specific legal implications in doing so, as long as the purpose of each mission was peaceful. The UN's Outer Space Treaty states that all such projects should be non-discriminatory, and therefore all religions and genomes should be eligible.
Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins believes that the moon could potentially stand as a silent epitaph to the human race, a sort of "cosmic tombstone" in our memory should we ever become extinct. "We should be using it to store the best humanity has ever had to offer, like the works of Michelangelo, Beethoven, Schubert and Shakespeare," he said.
What do you think should be sent to the moon for preservation? Do you think it is ethical to use another planet in such a way? Share your thoughts with us here at Unknown Country, where the news deals with topics from the edge of the world and beyond!
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