Plans for a “Doomsday Ark” on the Moon are in the Works

Let’s say something terrible happens to your computer, like it crashes or you drop it. All of those movies you bought online are toast, as is your address book and most of your work. It’s always a good idea to have a backup somewhere else, right?

Having a backup of your computer is handy, but having a backup of the entire progress of human civilization is even more practical. If a major catastrophic event like nuclear war or an asteroid strike wipes out most of the humans on the planet, it would be helpful for the survivors to have a record of all the accomplishments we’ve made in the past few thousands of years to help rebuild and repopulate the Earth.

The closest off-world place to store such a structure and ensure its safety would be the Moon. The construction of such a “doomsday ark” was presented last month by William Burrough and Jim Burke at a symposium on “Space Solutions to Earth’s Global Challenges” at the International Space University in Strasbourg, France.

There are already gene banks – stores of plant seeds – around the world, one of which is the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, which officially opened last month. But having a backup inside your computer doesn’t help if you drop it in a lake, so taking such an important operation off the Earth would make it that much more likely to survive any major catastrophes.

The ark would contain hard disks that store the genetic information of humans, plants and animals, as well as information on necessary or helpful processes for survival such as smelting metal, planting crops and building houses. Like the seed vaults, the ark could be expanded to include actual seeds, plants and frozen genetic material, which would aid in the re-population of these species given that a spacecraft could be launched to retrieve them.

After being constructed underneath the surface of the Moon to protect it from the radiation from the Sun and the extreme temperatures of the Moon’s surface, the vault could be set to automatically transmit the information to the Earth in case of disaster. Outposts containing a receiver and supplies necessary for survival would be installed across our planet to aid in rebuilding and the reception of information. The databank would transmit in a variety of different languages to ensure that the survivors could actually read the sent instructions.

To start, the ark would be tended by robots, but a future base on the Moon might allow it to be maintained and improved by human beings (an even better safeguard against humanity being wiped out).The scientists think it would be possible to place such an ark on the Moon before 2020. This basic archive would have a 30-year lifespan, and could be followed up with a more complete archive by the year 2035.


40 Replies to “Plans for a “Doomsday Ark” on the Moon are in the Works”

  1. A very good idea… but perhaps we should have been underway with these plans about 10 years ago.

  2. Who knows… mabey we’ll FIND a “doomsday arc” of sorts, already on our moon. Possibly left by another civilization , from our planet or others (mars?). hmmm…

  3. There was a BBC “documentary” (in the sense that Orson Well’s War of the Worlds was news) a long while ago about missing scientists. In it, the major powers got together and started a colony on Mars as an ark against nukes, etc.

    I can’t recall the name, but it was good fun at the time.

  4. While i think this is all well and good, there’s one problem that sticks out. If we’re suddenly destroyed or brought close to our destruction by a nuclear war or an asteroid pummeling the Earth, how do they expect us to retrieve these?
    With the world in ruins we wouldn’t exactly have hi-tech receivers to connect to the “ark” and learn how to smelt metal and build advanced housing right off the bat.. and the same goes fro the genetic banks and such.. “IF we have a ship to go there.” I don’t think a Nuclear War or Asteroid would be kind enough to spare the people and portion of our world where that technology (such as the Space shuttles in Florida) are harbored so we can get back there and restart. It’s sort of like..
    “we’ve created a bank where everything we know is stored.. but it’s on the other side of this gigantic river that can only be crossed by an unstable and undeveloped rope bridge!” Well great, but a fire strikes on your side and it’s going to burn down that bridge.. screwing you and the rest of your compatriots from ever getting to the Bank.

  5. Hmm. Not a bad idea. However, this would cost a lot of money. And in the case in which this action was necessary I really don’t see how after such a disaster we would be able to communicate with the moon vault. seeing how most tech capable of sending and receiving messages would fail to survive the main disaster. And how are we to create a cow from mere genetic code samples?

  6. I think the point that has been raised (how would this information be retrieved?) is very valid. I think a point equally as important, yet not yet raised, is: What information will be valued and privileged to be included? If the goal is to “have a record of all the accomplishments we’ve made in the past few thousands of years to help rebuild and repopulate the Earth,” then what counts as an accomplishment and what does not? Information such as “smelting metal, planting crops and building houses” is important, but then, what type of houses? With what types of tools and what types of materials? I’m highly suspect of this endeavor, mostly because it involves a group of people with power and privilege determining what information is privileged enough for this “Ark.” Immediately, even, we see the privileging of Judeo-Christian history over others.

  7. I agree with Jolt and to further the point, why would we want to have information being sent to a redeveloping civilization that basically carries the blueprint to cause a catastrophe all over again. Wouldn’t it be more prudent to provide information to correct the mistakes we, as a civilization, have made? Smelting metal is all well and good, but we should also communicate the necessity to do so in a carbon neutral manner. I don’t think it makes sense to have an archive of how to slowly destroy a planet. We should use the opportunity to teach the new civilization about the mistakes we made, and give them the means to not repeat them. Regardless of your beliefs, I think we can all identify things that we do that could be changed so it is not such a negative force on the planet.

  8. This is an idea that Arthur C Clarke used in 3001: The Final Odyssey. The twist was that nuclear weapons and other dangerous material were stored there including a certain monolith. Mankind realized it might have a use for these later but wanted them in a safe place.
    Documents could be stored there including copies of the constitution. We could put a repository on the Earth and Mars. Perhaps Ceres would also make another back up place. Professor Borrows came up with the idea of spreading these out through out the solar system. Eventually, as we colonize these worlds, we could archive their information. We could also include colonies in LaGrange points in the Moon’s orbit and the Earth’s orbit around the Sun.

  9. On the subject of retrieval of the ‘arc’ , one could bring up the point of possibilities of already having some humans living on the moon already. perhaps a small colony that could eventually travel back to earth, after it is once again habitable(?), and help to repopulate, etc.

  10. If humans are already living on the Moon when and if a global disaster strikes, retrieving information from the Moon is a non-problem, especially if those on the Moon already have means of traveling between planets themselves. And if global warming causes mass extinctions among Earth’s life, even if it doesn’t wipe humanity out, this is one way that that life could be restored. We are part of a huge community of life-forms, and depend upon that community for our very lives as well as many of the things that make life worth living. So we need to preserve that community, or at least a good cross-section of it, somewhere off Earth, if only in data banks and genetic arks. As for the cost, every great venture into space we’ve ever undertaken has paid off handsomely in numerous ways, more than enough to cover the costs of those ventures. This would do the same, only more so. It’s worth doing — and we should have started in on it yesterday.

  11. Maybe the ark needs to have a little launch pad equipped with a robotic rocket with onboard radio receiver. The ark could pulse Earth once per week or so, and in the absence of a reply (indicating a disaster had occurred), launch the rocket to a computer controlled trajectory to Earth. It would land the radio dish somewhere near one of several pre-determined ‘safe’ bunkers in a mountain-side or something and then the transmissions from the moon could be downlinked to Earth via the radio dish for storage on back-up systems.

    Of course, all of this begs the question of ‘why not just have multiple redundant copies in back-up systems in deep bunkers on Earth and forget about all of this moon business’, but that wouldn’t be any fun.

    I guess in the the end, the advantage of having it all on the moon in case of some uber-catastrophe is that if humans made it back to a similar level of tech, they could get to the moon, mine the data and would almost certainly find a few things they either hadn’t thought of yet or that we had maybe done better… computer chip designs for example.

  12. Only way this is going to work is if its manned by a human population that along with the vault can escape the disaster and have the knowledge and equipment in place to help the devastated people on the Earth below get back on their feet.

    Because like several above have already said. This plan isn’t going to work on your own in a true disaster, because getting to the moon is the most complex undertaking we have ever done, so if we can still get to the moon after a disaster, we probably don’t need most of what’s in the vault anyway.

  13. Physical retrieval would not really be necessary. It would be cheaper and easier for a recovering civilization to rebuild some part of the internet and retrieve the information digitally than to develop a new space program and travel to the moon.

    Obviously information would have to be stored somewhere here on Earth to allow for this rebuild and to provide the proper protocols, etc. for communicating with the “ark”.

  14. As long as NASA isn’t in charge of this project, i dont see why it couldn’t be built 🙂

  15. Not a very well thought out goal, if the description is accurate, for a few other reasons:

    If technology develops to the point of making construction feasible of a sophisticated permanent deep storage environment on the moon, chances are pretty good it could be done at least as well in a very well protected area here, at lower cost, such as in deep water. Or, if the Yucca mountain facility is really that well designed and likely to survive tens of thousands of years unattended (well, at least as is promised), a similar system could be set up at much less cost (not nearby: don’t want contamination).

    Any terrorist group or outlaw nation that obtains the resources and means to take out and make uninhabitable widespread vital areas on earth would probably have the skill and resources to destroy or at least disable and contaminate a confined unprotected target in space (moon, or in earth orbit). If they have strategic smarts, the “ark” would be the first threatened, for leverage, if not merely out of religious zealotry.

    The intriguing problem is whether establishment of any kind of any “ark” would effectively decrease the perceived risk of employing mass destructive weaponry, as the game would then have a lower risk of total loss. Even more pronounced an effect if earth nations independently establish their own refuge areas (why is China so compelled to explore the backside of the moon? And why does the U.S. care so much?).

    The moral dilemma is whether the resources should be devoted to alleviating problems of those among us who are dying now due to natural and man-made disasters, or at least creating a safe space for people down here to retreat to in case of the anticipated disaster. A good case can be presented that doing so would more effectively limit the risk of hostile mutual destruction.

  16. It is a very good idea, a “fail safe” in case anything catastrophic happens. The technology developed to make the ark and the colony to preserve it would benefit those of us on Earth, even if no catastrophe happens.

    As for us preserving the means to protect “the slow destruction of our planet”, I think Curtis and the other liberal dunderheads are reaping the benefit of a very comfortable life here on good old Planet Earth. No guilt with my morning coffee, please.

  17. > Immediately, even, we see the privileging of > Judeo-Christian history over others.

    We can include the contributions from other cultures/religions as well. I’ve got a thumb drive that I’ll donate to the cause…

    I would much rather eliminate any religious references and stick stricly to technical means to regenerate. If civilization as we know it were destroyed, the first thing that I hope goes up in smoke is religion in all of its forms. An emerging civilization really doesn’t need all of that baggage.

  18. Reply to Mang.

    The programme was called ‘Alternative 3’. It was a spoof for April 1st. Well worth a look if you can find a copy.

  19. > ‘The programme was called ‘Alternative 3’.

    Oh yes, I remember it now. I mostly remember it because grammarians complained: you can’t have an alternative 3 – you can have three options but you only ever have two alternatives.


  20. I think that the general ideas is more likely to leave a stone mark in the history of evolution.
    I a major diisaster occurs, and survivors will be able to get to the moon (or elsewhere) they might use that “ark”.
    Surely people that will reach that situation will be more or less able to do aniithing as thay will be probably scientist and big minds of our society.
    If case no one will be able to escape, we will leave anyway a record of our civilization that extraterrestrial beings might be able to read and eventually put them at good use to restore (maybe or maybe not) mankind.
    The technology we have today was unthinkable decades ago so it’s very likely that another civilization that evolved in a different environment might be able to work something out.
    It’s more or less like a job or reverse engineering.

  21. Looking at it sort of from an I.T. point of view, I guess there should be a backup of our civilisation (or ‘ark’) ‘onsite’ (i.e. on the Earth) as well as a backup ‘offsite’ (i.e. on the moon). The onsite (Earth) ark could be accessed for partial catastrophe’s, while the offsite (Moon) ark could be accessed for total catastrophe’s wiping out civilisation on Earth.
    Obviously an offsite backup is only useful if you can get access to it. So in the case of a total catastrophe wiping out Earth, there would obviously need to be Humans living on the Moon with ready access to the backup.

    Another issue, if the Earth is wiped out and becomes totally inhospitable, techniques such as ‘smelting metal, planting crops and building houses’ would be useless, as humans would now need to make the Moon home, and therefore those techniques would need to be properly studied and researched for inclusion in the ark, such that they can be applied in a lunar environment also.

    Also some previous comments assume that all of humanity will be wiped out, or those that are left will have no knowledge of the world’s existing state of affairs. Clearly any surviving adults would be able to take the knowledge from the ‘ark’ and apply it appropriately to rebuilding civilisation, by taking advantage of ‘green’ technology from the start etc etc.

    My final point is security. Any existing space faring nation would pose a huge security risk for the ‘offsite’ ark on the Moon. For example, if they were capable of wiping out all humans on Earth (by WMD etc) then they could send humans from their nation to the moon to take control of it, then wipe out all remaining humans on Earth. That nation would then be the only surviving human nation, and would be starting up the next era of humanity, and basically in control of the entire World!

  22. Even if we really do wreck the face of the earth. Life will continue. Underground bunkers will persist. I don’t know of anything we have threatened ourselves with that would destroy each and every earthly stronghold. Taking it to the moon is romantic, possibly prophetic…but maybe just a little over the top.
    If we are headed so much in the wrong direction (and we usually make it out of most of our scrapes…) then really, who needs an ark to remind us of how foolish we were? And if we’ve really messed up the earth so badly, there probably won’t be any point in trying to salvage what we had. Let’s blast off to that solar system described elsewhere in today’s entries, on a colony ship like that in the movie Titan A.E.

  23. It would be much cheaper and much more accessable if the data were kept on Earth. We could make and distribute hundreds of arks across the planet for less than what it would cost to place a single copy on the moon.

    As many have already said, if the civilization is so damaged that you need this information you would have to recreate most of it just to be able to get off the planet (and get back) in the first place.

    I’m all in favor of going to the moon but this isn’t the reason to do so. Now if we happen to get there taking along a copy of the ark would certainly be a good idea.

  24. This entire discussion is very curious to me – if not just basically sad. The author of this arguably ill-fated project uses a Hebrew loan word from the Bible. That word originally used by an ostensibly extraterrestrial (i.e. ET) omnipotent deity-entity who historically brought the first tactical (albeit corrective) global disaster – due to His FMA (i.e. free moral agent) disobedient antediluvian human subjects and FMA disobedient metaphysical emissaries. Yet allowed an “ark” rescue plan for 8 human FMA survivors.

    These human survivors did historically and in fact repopulated the Earth but did not require any such human-built/designed “archive” as this ET deity-entity provided real-time technology transfer via His FMA and O-B-E-D-I-E-N-T metaphysical messenger/emissaries.

    It seems to me that if this particular ET entity decides to bring a SECOND doomsday it will be for equally corrective reasons. It stands to reason that He would provide the SAME metaphysical emissary infrastructure He did circa 4,000 years ago in the aforementioned feared future post-apocalyptic period. Yes there’s room on T-H-I-S “ark” for many FMA human survivors here on Earth not up there in space (aka heaven) somewhere!!!

    It appears to me that we humans should be putting our loyalty or allegiance to Him rather than to imperfect man-made archives which could plausibly contain many ‘bad’ things; such as: racist, and arguably hidden-agenda-esque books like: “The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection: The Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life.”

    Food for thought: Exactly W-H-O decides who the FAVORED RACES are? Think about who’s metaphoric table you will dine at by the last day? This Divine deity-entity ET or the quintessential slanderer/resistor muse of William Burrough’s and Jim Burke’s arguably ludicrous and intrinsically flawed concepts of Divinely-initiated-doomsday survival.

    (BTW this particular ET would never allow a ‘doomsday scenario’ unless He initiated it. That’s academic / historical my dear Watsons!)

    Boargenes AKA Utnapishtim

  25. Madhu Thangavelu advanced this idea previously in Appendix Q of “The Moon, Resources, Future Development and Colonization”, by Shrunk, Sharpe, Cooper and Thangavelu (John Wiley & Praxis, 1999). Reviewing it for ‘Space Policy’, I pointed out that the same aim had been intended for the millenial library at Alexandria, but it had been restricted to Islamic texts only in reponse to threats of destruction, just like the last one.

  26. The retreval of the information would be a simple matter of robotic landers with basic information and possibly seeds and anything else that might be considered useful as it will be cheaper to launch these from the moon so weight shouldn’t be a problem. We have seen the dooms day devices in the popular media and this sort of feature could be included in the lunar base if a signal from earth is stopped then the system would start looking for active settlements. Should the system find these it could then send a lander to the area in question. It would need some sort of voice recognition software and a method of projecting images.

    The problem as I see it would be then these ‘bots would become the “gods” of any society that sprang up even if they had limited AI. Also the poster that suggested that rogue nations would hit the moon with a nuke that wouldn’t happen you need a high level to tech to build a nuke and the delivery system. It is much cheaper and easier to develop chemical and bio war. For example the smallpox blankets that were given to the North American natives and the mustard gas from WW1.

  27. Yeh as I sit around my smouldering campfire eating a rat I am sure I will want to backup my PC with files from yesteryear and I will find it easy to get them back FROM THE MOON, oh come on. But wait isnt there a similer thing in greenland? Well cool I will go there. HOHO its every man for himself.

    Alternative Three is what an early post was describing…

    I just been reading about it.

    good luck every one


  28. Liberal Dunderhead? I think not. I stated my comment on the basis of keeping partisan Bull *poop* out of it. I am not doing the Al Gore style of fear mongering with climate change. Hell, I thought “An Inconvenient Truth” was a comedy, personally.

    Bottom line is this. I would like to also teach the new civilization about consequences too. This way we don’t have a new civilization that does very stupid things like adding radioactive material to toothpaste, and such.

    No guilt was intended. So drink your coffee already 😉

  29. maybe it would be best to not put the plans for nukes up there, that way maybe the new earthlings wont make the same mistake that wiped them out to begin with

  30. Interesting viewpoint Utnapishtim. I did have to look up antediluvian in the dictionary though! One more word for the vocabulary.

  31. Remember what the Voyager probes had on them in respect to info about our planet? Gold records with pretty and fluffy sweet pictures and recordings and … half realistic stuff about this planet.
    And we assumed they could already play a record with technology we no longer need, use, or want . We’ve already assumed whomever finds traces of our existence will be technically light years ahead of us.

    Would they even bother to spend the time and investigate what they were looking at?

  32. Given the longevity of electronic equipment it sounds like an immense waste of time, effort and money to me. It would be a lot cheaper to set up multiple sites on the Earth and write it on stone- a truely long lasting recording method.

  33. [“The construction of such a “doomsday ark” was presented last month by William Burrough and Jim Burke at a symposium on “Space Solutions to Earth’s Global Challenges”]

    Actually the Idea was Presented in the Movie Titan AE in 2000. Life apparently follows Art in this case. The Idea of an Ark is Novel, but it’s akin to building a Minivan when you need a Freight Train. Why settle for building a fall back plan? What is needed is a Self Sustaining Human Colony with a Good Wireless Connection and Up to Date Backups of all of Google’s Servers.

    The Idea of a Global Catastrophe is not conjecture, it is inevitable. If we are to prevent our species from vanishing into the long night of extinction we absolutely must sever the umbilical cord with this planet.

    Humanity is more and more like the 18 Year old child, nearing the end of primary school. It is time to find a job and to start looking for an apartment of our own. We can visit our Parents house any time for dinner, but we need to move on so our siblings have room to grow.

  34. You are all so stuck on yourselves it’s nauseating. Every one of you love to hear yourself speak. You think you are so intelligent. First of all utnapishtim, stop referring to GOD as et. If you would read your bible you would see that all of this is an incredible and unfortunate waste of time. I truly hope you all fing GOD and get saved before it’s too late. There is an eternal burning hell that GOD wants to save you from but most of you are too “SMART” to accept that.

  35. I have to agree. This is lame. How about we stop being lazy fools and try working on saving humanity instead of having a reset button. Lazy bums. It really is disgusting.

  36. Let’s say this happens good and well. What if though, the asteroid that destroyed us had also taken out the moon before taking us out?

  37. Chris said on May 27th, 2008 at 1:44 am
    “You are all so stuck on yourselves it’s nauseating. Every one of you love to hear yourself speak. You think you are so intelligent. First of all Utnapishtim, stop referring to GOD as ET. If you would read your bible you would see that all of this is an incredible and unfortunate waste of time. I truly hope you all find GOD and get saved before it’s too late. There is an eternal burning hell that GOD wants to save you from but most of you are too “SMART” to accept that.”

    Yes Chris I imagine that intellectuals would make some envious of their own gaps in life. But that can be fixed by reading and continuing your education. Yes I do like re-reading my stuff sometimes. Sometimes I think it is inspired, but is probably just me.

    No Chris GOD is an ET. Look up the phrase ET. It means Exists Above The Earth. How does that not refer to God? Yes the Ark Project is a major waste of time as I hinted at in my posting.

    Yes READING the Bible with discernment (as Apostle Paul suggested) you may learn MANY things you never knew before. Like what? Like there is no such thing as an “eternal burning hell” or hellfire. That is just one of MANY organized Christianity (Catholic/Protestant) myths. Hades or Hell is just a common condition of non-existence or death NOT a place of conscious torment. Also the devil temporarily lives right here on Earth with us NOT in Hell; and as Paul said is the god of this system of things.

    Fortunately God will soon retire this old system of things with its false misleading god/teacher; and then issue a new system of things. Burroughs and Burke IMHO are two victims of this false god’s demonic ‘last days’ inspirations and teachings.

    The introspective question needs to be asked: “Will I be there?” and “What do I need to do NOW to get on the CORRECT path to there?”

    BTW God appreciates “SMART” – He gave King Solomon that most cherished gift! Think about it Chris.

    Google my moniker/handle to see who Utnapistim was in history. You’ll find it very interesting.

    Boargenes AKA Utnapishtim

    Boargenes = “Sons of thunder”

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