Eventually, commercial moon landers may help carry a diverse library of cultural and biological records to the lunar surface, where they would be preserved in case Earth suffers a pandemic plague, nuclear holocaust or lethal asteroid strike.

The first artefacts to shoot for the moon could be three religious and philosophical texts. The Torah on the Moon project, based in Tel Aviv, Israel, has been courting private firms to deliver a handwritten Jewish scroll, the Sefer Torah, to the lunar surface. If they succeed, later flights will carry Hindu scriptures called the Vedas and the ancient Chinese philosophical work, the I-Ching.

Each document will be housed in a space-ready capsule designed to protect it from harsh radiation and temperature changes on the moon for at least 10,000 years.

The texts would join a Bible left on the moon in 1971 by Apollo 15 commander David Scott. The red leather Bible sits on the control console of an Apollo moon buggy.

“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.

Jain thinks future projects should find a representative sample of humanity, perhaps a million people, take their DNA and store it on the moon. “So in case of an asteroid strike that wipes us out like the dinosaurs, humanity can be saved.”

Jain’s idea may become a reality: New Scientist has learned that a UK-based venture is quietly developing a mission to store human, animal and plant genomes on the moon – although flaws in this plan are turning up in seed banks on Earth (see “Banked seeds are plants out of time”).

Such off-planet backup missions are proliferating, says Joanne Wheeler, a lawyer specialising in space issues at CMS Cameron McKenna in London. “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 says.

Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins says that the moon could even become a “cosmic tombstone” if humans 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 says.

Meanwhile, Roger Launius at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC thinks it apt that such space flight projects should be tied to religion, because space flight advocacy itself has many of the hallmarks of a religion. “There is salvation theology, in that they believe the human race will be saved by space flight’s ability to make us a multi-planetary species,” he says. “And we have pilgrimages at gatherings like launches, which are like a euphoric religious experience.”

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