This nonprofit plans to send millions of wikipedia pages to the moon — printed on tiny metal sheets – the verge hp gas


Don’t worry: there won’t be reams of Wikipedia printouts sitting in the lunar soil. Instead, the organization says it will send up millions of Wikipedia articles in the form of miniaturized prints, etched into tiny sheets of metal that are thinner than the average human hair. The nonprofit claims that with this method, it can send up millions of pages of text in a package that’s about the size of a CD.

The unusual mission is the brainchild of the Arch Foundation (pronounced “arc,” short for archive.) Formed in 2015, the nonprofit’s goal is to set up archives of humanity’s culture in different places throughout our cosmic neighborhood, as a way to inspire people about space. “We thought of this project to archive human civilization around the Solar System — to create a permanent off-site backup of all our cultural achievements,” Arch co-founder Nova Spivack tells The Verge. “So, our knowledge, our art, our languages, our history — all the stuff the human mind has produced.” The idea is that these archives could last for millions to billions of years in space, where they might be found and read by future humans. Tiny pages of text etched into nickel Images: Arch Foundation

To get started on such an ambitious task, the Arch Foundation is teaming up with a space startup called Astrobotic, a company that wants to become the first delivery service for the Moon. Based in Pennsylvania, Astrotobic is developing a suite of robots to take payloads to the lunar surface, as well as rovers that can cross the Moon’s landscape. Pending government approval, the company’s first mission will entail launching a lander, called the Peregrine, to the Moon via an Atlas V rocket in mid-2020. That’s when the tiny Wikipedia prints will hitch a ride inside a special cylinder container. They’ll remain on the lander indefinitely once the spacecraft touches down on the surface.

“It’s humbling to think our mission to the Moon will deliver something that could be read millions of years from now,” John Thornton, Astrobotic’s CEO, said in a statement. “Arch’s Lunar Library will be a monument not only to human knowledge and culture, but also the first commercial mission to the Moon.” An artistic rendering of Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander Image: Astrobotic

Spivack says the library will include top Wikipedia articles in other languages, too, as well as the Long Now Foundation’s Rosetta Project — a digital library of more than 1,500 human languages. Arch plans to include even more content, which the organization will announce over the next year. And there will be ways for members of the public to get involved and help decide what’s chosen, Spivack says.

The Arch Foundation already has experience with sending archived text into space. Earlier this year, the nonprofit created tiny digital storage devices — called Archs — containing the entirety of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy, which then rode into space inside the Tesla Roadster launched aboard SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket. The nonprofit got the gig after Spivack tweeted at SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, asking to include the books on the flight. He says the Foundation books serve as a big inspiration for Arch, since they revolve around a group of people trying to preserve an encyclopedia for the future of the galaxy to prevent an impending dark age.

Storing data in the vacuum of space is much more difficult than it is here on Earth, though. Space is a cruel environment, filled with high-energy cosmic rays and extreme temperatures that can corrode and damage sensitive materials. The storage devices we use on Earth just won’t work. So for the Falcon Heavy flight, Arch turned to the mineral quartz. Using a special laser technology, the nonprofit encoded the books’ data into small quartz discs, a concept known as 5D optical storage. How millions of pages could be stored in a single stack of nickel sheets Image: Arch Foundation

For the Lunar Library project, instead of printing on quartz discs, the foundation will be using thin squares of nickel. “Nickel is an element that doesn’t corrode, lasts basically forever in space, and cosmic rays won’t hurt it,” says Spivack. Lasers will etch miniaturized Wikipedia pages into square nickel sheets that are smaller than a postage stamp, each one measuring about half an inch (1.7 centimeter) wide and just 20 microns thick. Though they are small, one nickel sheet can hold up 16,000 pages of content. And unlike the quartz discs, which stored data digitally, the nickel sheets can be read using a standard optical microscope, magnified up to 1,000 times.

The plan is to stack all these sheets inside a CD-sized container, which will allow Arch to send up between 25 million to 50 million pages of text and images. The organization says it can print out such a colossal amount of content thanks to a partnership with Stamper Technology, which has patented this specialized laser printing technology. And Spivack says it’s fast, too; the millions of pages can be done in just a week’s time. “The time to write it is quite reasonable, which means we can send a pretty current copy close to the launch date.”

Ultimately, the Arch Foundation plans to send up more and more archives to the Moon over time, so the library will always be growing. The nonprofit is also developing a Mars Library, and after that, it wants to spread storage devices to various places in the Solar System. “We’re partner agnostic, so we’ll fly with anybody who gives us space,” says Spivack. “We want many copies in many places, so it increases the likelihood these archives will survive and be found in the distant future.”