By Corey S. Powell

When launched toward the moon last week, it was carrying a mysterious cargo. Mission planners called it a time capsule but hinted that that wasn’t the whole story. Now the truth is out: The little lunar probe carries a 30-million-page archive of human knowledge etched into a DVD-size metal disc.

The , as the archive is known, constitutes a “civilization backup” to help ensure that our distant descendants never lose humanity’s collective wisdom, according to Nova Spivack, co-founder of Arch Mission Foundation, the Los Angeles-based nonprofit behind the project. The foundation is building a space-based archive designed to survive for 6 billion years or more — a million times longer than the oldest written records in existence today.

“One of the primary evolutionary challenges that we face is amnesia about our past mistakes, and the lack of active countermeasures to repeating them,” Spivack said in an email. “For the , we need to find ways to raise our awareness of what worked and didn’t work, and we need to ensure it is shared with the people of the future.”

Paul Davies, director of the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Physics at Arizona State University, regards the Lunar Library as mostly symbolic, yet still important. “It encourages people to reflect on humankind’s place in the universe,” he said, and to rethink how we search for evidence of nonhuman civilizations, too.

“If we can leave records on the moon for a huge duration, maybe E.T. will have done the same,” Davies said, adding that it might make sense for humans to  on the moon or other locations.

THE WORLD IN A DISC

Sending a library into space isn’t entirely new for the Arch Foundation. Before last year, Spivack and his team put in its glove box a quartz disc containing the entire text of Asimov’s famous “Foundation” trilogy of science-fiction books, a major influence on Spivack’s thinking.

For the Lunar Library, the scope had to be far wider. “We are building a Rosetta Stone for beings who inhabit our solar system in the future,” Spivack said.

One small component of the archive is the : a collection of songs, children’s drawings and writings about Israeli culture and history. But the rest is truly encyclopedic. Included in the Lunar Library’s more than 200 gigabytes of data are the entire English-language version of Wikipedia; tens of thousands of fiction and nonfiction books; a collection of textbooks; and a guide to 5,000 languages along with 1.5 billion sample translations between them.

All of that information is etched onto 25 stacked nickel disks, each just 40 microns (about 1/600th of an inch) thick.

Image: Lunar library
Front cover of the 2019 Lunar Library.Bruce Ha / Arch Mission Foundation

Since people of the far future will presumably not have a DVD player handy, and might not speak any language now in use, the top of the Lunar Library’s disc is engraved with tiny images of books and other documents explaining human linguistics, along with instructions about how to read the library beneath. The introductory layers can easily be viewed when magnified 100 times under a simple microscope. Then it’s up to our crafty descendants to build the player so they can read the rest of the Library….More info at