Scientists have proposed the creation of a gene bank on the surface of the Moon that will protect the genetic material of all species on Earth in case of a global catastrophe on our planet.
The Earth is constantly faced with threats of nuclear war, accelerated climate change, environmental poisoning, and natural disasters such as supervolcano eruptions, earthquakes, tsunamis, and asteroid impacts. Any of these events can lead to the loss of thousands of species of animals and plants, and with them the most important food chains, on which the survival of man as a species depends directly.
Meanwhile, the gene banks on Earth are one way or another vulnerable to global catastrophes.
How can we create a “Noah’s Ark” on the Moon?
A team from the University of Arizona proposed creating a repository of genetic material on the Moon, presenting a detailed project in a talk delivered at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) aerospace conference, held from March 6 to 13, 2021. The idea is to use pre-made natural cavities for the creation of a real “Noah’s Ark” on the Moon.
Currently, several hundred pits have been discovered on the lunar surface, which are believed to be the remains of lava tubes. Given that the Moon is geologically inactive, these lava tubes could be an excellent hiding place for many objects. In particular – to act as an ideal repository for seeds, sperm, eggs, and DNA of endangered species of animals and plants on Earth.
Lunar lava tubes are about 80 m deep and 80-100 m in diameter. Temperatures there are expected to remain constant, in the region of -25 0 C compared to surface differences from +130 0 C during the day to -150 0 C at night. They are also well protected from radiation and small meteorite impacts.
For storage of seeds, sperm, eggs, and DNA, cryogenic temperatures below -180 ° C are required. At such temperatures, the biomaterial can be safely stored for many centuries.
The group has proposed a modular expandable design for a Noah’s Ark on the Moon, which will be powered by photovoltaic batteries located on the lunar surface. During the lunar day, sufficient energy will be generated to cool the ark both day and night.
Biomaterials will be stored in cassette storage, packed on revolving shelves. In turn, the racks will be housed in a cylindrical modular storage facility 25 m long and 10 m in diameter. These cylindrical storage facilities will be accessed via vertical shafts with elevators built into the moon pits. The vertical mines will also include laboratories to verify the integrity of the stored biomaterial and prepare it for transport back to Earth. To remove and place the necessary cassette containing cryopreserved biomaterial.
According to the calculations of the authors of the project, the delivery of 50 samples to the Moon for each of 6.7 million types of species on Earth will require at least 250 rocket launches. In comparison, it took 40 rocket launches to assemble the ISS in low Earth orbit.
Thus, 250 flights are, of course, a lot – but it is still possible when it comes to creating a genetic “insurance policy” for life on Earth.
Why do we need to take such precautions? Can’t we preserve these species here on Earth?
Ecologists believe that the sixth mass extinction, caused exclusively by human activities, is currently taking place on our planet. Since people are responsible for the current state of the planet, as well as for the fact that it continues to deteriorate, they must somehow take care of the preservation of the diversity of organisms on its surface.
One way to preserve this diversity is to build storage facilities like the Global Seed Bank, located in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard. Here, in the permafrost tunnel, plant seeds from all over the world are stored. There are also “frozen zoos” that collect and store animal genetic material under cryogenic conditions.
Unfortunately, such objects have their drawbacks. In 2017, water from the melting permafrost made its way into the Global Seed Bank, showing that progressive climate change threatens even such well-protected facilities. Even if it were built elsewhere, this would not guarantee it 100% safety.
In this case, the idea of storing the biological material of terrestrial organisms outside the Earth is not so bad and there is no other option than to create this Noah’s Ark on the Moon.
This idea was actually suggested over a decade ago shortly after the facility in Svalbard was put into operation. There is no need to describe again how difficult it would be to create a similar place on the Moon and it would likely not happen in the next couple of decades but what’s important is that the project has already been put in motion.
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• Dieckman, E. (2021, March 08). Engineers propose solar-powered lunar ark as ‘modern global insurance policy’.
• Linder, C. (2021, March 12). Scientists are planning to BUILD Noah’s Ark on the moon.
• Nasa/JPL/USGS, & Arizona, U. (2021, March 11). Lunar “Noah’s Ark” concept saves backup of millions of plants and animals.
• Randall, I. (2021, March 10). Scientists want to store animal sperm and egg samples on the moon as ‘insurance policy’.