Whether it be a nuclear war, an asteroid or a zombie apocalypse, the world will probably end some day. To prepare for that inevitable scenario, scientists have put forward a plan for a new ‘global insurance policy’.
Enter the lunar ark
In nothing short of a biblical move, scientists have proposed we send 6.7 million cryogenically frozen Earth species to the moon for preservation.
This ‘lunar ark’ would see sperm and egg samples from humans and animals along with seeds and spores from plant species shipped to the moon. It would apparently take 250 rocket launches to transport at least 50 samples of each species.
The idea was proposed by Jekan Thanga, a professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering at the University of Arizona, during the IEEE Aerospace Conference.
Thanga said the idea was in response to the looming threat of climate change and other potential world-ending events (like a pandemic).
“As humans, we had a close call about 75,000 years ago with the Toba supervolcanic eruption, which caused a 1,000-year cooling period and, according to some, aligns with an estimated drop in human diversity,” he said.
“Because human civilisation has such a large footprint, if it were to collapse, that could have a negative cascading effect on the rest of the planet.”
The idea of a DNA bank isn’t new. The Svalbard Seed Vault in Norway holds samples of plants from all around the world. But this is still at risk of rising sea levels and other external factors.
The lunar ark would reduce the risk of Earth’s biodiversity being lost if one event were to take us all out. It’s basically a contingency plan for all our deaths.
How will the ark work?
Seeing as humans are yet to establish a permanent settlement on the moon, how would this ark be maintained?
Scientists have proposed these samples be kept in one of the moon’s many lava tubes. These tubes were believed to have formed billions of years ago when the moon was home to flowing volcanoes. They’re also the ideal location for a potential human settlement.
The proposed design would use two solar panels on the surface of the moon to provide power. The cryogenic samples would be kept in special modules inside the lava tubes. On the surface, a communications array would allow the ark to be maintained remotely. There would also be an airlock installed for human visitors.
The incredibly cold temperatures within the lava tubes make it a more ideal habitat for sample storage. To be cryogenically preserved the samples would need to be kept at between -180°C to -196°C.
This rules out any human involvement in storing the samples, so robots would need to look after things instead. Except it’s even too cold for robots.
So, scientists are proposing a method known as “quantum levitation” which would supercharge magnetic conductive materials within a magnetic field. It basically allows the robots to move via levitation.
“It’s like they’re locked in place by strings, but invisible strings. When you get to cryogenic temperatures, strange things happen. Some of it just looks like magic but is based on tried and laboratory-tested physics principles at the edge of our understanding,” Thanga said.
Quantum levitation isn’t yet possible, but science is working on it.
Thanga proposed a 30-year timeline for the lunar ark to be completed. He also noted that if an extinction event were to approach it could be undertaken much faster.
“This is a project that would require real urgency to have a lot of people energised enough to go after it.”
Doomsday may come for us but the lunar ark will live on.