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Space and Physics

The Plan To Store Humanity's Knowledge In Lava Tubes On The Moon

James Felton

James Felton

Senior Staff Writer

clockMay 24 2022, 19:29 UTC
An illustration of a potential base in lava tubes on the Moon

An illustration of a potential base in lava tubes on the Moon. Image credit: Naebblys/Shutterstock.com

In the Norwegian Arctic island of Spitsbergen, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault – known as the Doomsday Vault – sits. The vault stores duplicates of seeds in airtight aluminum bags, to protect the world's food supply against their loss through everything from war to natural disasters.

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The system is not perfect – it has already flooded due to climate change – but the idea behind it is being applied by one company to humanity's knowledge. In short, Lonestar is planning to store humanity's data in underground lava tubes on the Moon.

"It's inconceivable to me that we are keeping our most precious assets, our knowledge, and our data, on Earth, where we're setting off bombs and burning things," founder and CEO of Lonestar, Christopher Stott, told The Register. "We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe."

The team is beyond the crazy idea phase, announcing in April that it has contracted for its first two missions, which will see the first data center placed on the Moon. 

"Data is the greatest currency created by the human race," Stott said in a press release. "We are dependent upon it for nearly everything we do and it is too important to us as a species to store in Earth's ever more fragile biosphere. Earth's largest satellite, our Moon, represents the ideal place to safely store our future."

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Indeed, there is also an apocalypse-proof vault for open-source data in Svalbard, already. 

Lonestar has arranged space on Intuitive Machines' IM-1 mission, a private mission that will place a lander on the Moon, to conduct an initial software test, storing a small amount of data on the lander for two weeks, or one lunar day. They then plan to "fly their first full data services payload on Intuitive Machine's IM-2 to the lunar pole", where they will conduct upload and download tests.

The idea is that future servers will be able to communicate with Earth, as well as store information that we don't want lost for many years.

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"If we don't do this, what will happen to our data on Earth?" Stott added to The Register. "The seed bank flooded due to effects of climate change. It's also susceptible to other forms of destruction like war or cyber attacks. We need to have somewhere we can keep our data safe."

This isn't the first time scientists have proposed storing important Earth knowledge on the Moon. But storing data on the Moon is, as you'd imagine, not an easy task.

As well as obvious problems (no Moon IT department to fix any bugs), the temperature on the Moon fluctuates from 106°C (222.8°F) during the day to -183°C (-297.4°F) at night, and the Moon does not protect its surface from cosmic radiation in the same way as Earth's atmosphere. This is where the lava tubes come in, providing a much more stable temperature, as well as preventing a lot of radiation from getting to the servers.

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The people at Lonestar are not the only ones looking into the idea, though for a different purpose. The Italian space agency, as part of the NASA Artemis Moon program, commissioned Thales Alenia Space to come up with proposals for data centers on the Moon. A part of the Artemis program is to make a permanent presence on the Moon, or a long-term lunar base. For this, data centers will be a requirement, not a novelty.

"For many needs, relying on Earth-based computational resources is simply not acceptable," Eleonora Zeminiani, head of Thales Alenia Space's Human Exploration New Initiatives division, told Data Center Dynamics, "because communications with Earth are subject to a [noticeable] latency, one order of magnitude bigger than what we consider acceptable for today’s VoIP standards and two orders of magnitude bigger than the desired standard for low latency applications such as virtual machines and network storage."


Space and Physics
  • moon,

  • humans

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