The aerospace conference of the Institute for Electrical and Electronic Engineering (IEEE) took place on Sunday, March 7th, 2021. On the occasion of the event, scientists spoke about a project that is atypical to say the least, namely the construction of a lunar arch project that can accommodate sperm, eggs and semen from millions of species on Earth in the event of really dire situations. In other words, it is a gene bank.
According to Jekan Thanga, lead author of the study and director of the Space Research and Earth Robotics Laboratory (SpaceTREx) at the University of Arizona, “both the environment and human civilization are very fragile.” tragic circumstances “like a super volcano eruption, a global nuclear war, an asteroid impact, a pandemic, accelerating climate change, or even a solar storm or global drought,” reports Live Science.
No species is safe on earth?
Scientists believe these circumstances pose a real potential threat to terrestrial biodiversity. Only by storing our genetic data elsewhere in the solar system can we ensure the survival of species on earth. Strictly speaking, the researchers are thinking of a specific place in the solar system where our samples could be housed and safely stored: the moon.
Researchers plan to build a gene bank on the moon
The moon would actually have tunnels and caves beneath its surface that were dug more than 3 billion years ago. Scientists plan to build the lunar arch there. According to Jekan Thanga, the ark should be in good condition and there may be up to 200 lava tubes suitable for the ark. ‘Ark’.
As a first step, the scientists suggest mapping the tunnels and caves dug by the lava by sending robots specially designed to explore the caves. They are called “SphereX robots” and look like “Pokeballs” with a dark metallic gray upper half and a bronze lower half.
A lunar arch with the genetic material of 6.7 million species. Photo credit: Shutterstock / PopTika
Thanga adds that thanks to their on-board cameras and the LIDAR method, which uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure distances, these robots can easily move in the moon’s low gravity and map tunnels and caves. The goal of this robotic exploration will be to find a suitable lava tube. Once this is done, the actual construction of the lunar arch can begin.
This lunar arc is also powered by solar panels. It is believed to contain the cryogenically preserved genetic material of 6.7 million species, including plants, animals and fungi on Earth. Scientists already estimate that it would take no fewer than 250 rocket launches to transport these samples to the moon.
The realization of the lunar arc remains complicated
In fact, Thanga has already announced the color for the cost of building the moon ark, which amounts to “hundreds of billions of dollars”. But the scientist hesitates and argues that this sum is within reach “for international cooperation such as the UN”.
In addition to the phenomenal costs, this project also presents the challenge of being able to use only robots for the maintenance of samples on the moon. In order for samples to be cryogenically stored, they must be stored at around -180 ° C and -196 ° C. Only robots that use quantum beat were able to sort and recover samples from cryopreservation modules. Quantum beat is not yet possible, but Thanga is confident that it is only a matter of time before this technology comes to fruition.
Ultimately, the researchers estimate that this project would take 30 years to complete. But here, too, they claim that in the event of an impending existential crisis, the implementation of this project could be accelerated so that it can be “carried out within 10 to 15 years if necessary”.