for National Geographic News
The moon should be developed as a sanctuary for civilization in case of a cataclysmic cosmic impact, according to an international team of experts.
NASA already has blueprints to create a permanent lunar outpost by the 2020s. (Read: "Moon Base Announced by NASA" [December 4, 2006].)
But that plan should be expanded to include a way to preserve humanity's learning, culture, and technology if Earth is hit by a doomsday asteroid or comet, said Jim Burke of International Space University (ISU) in France.
Burke, once a project manager on some of the earliest American lunar landings, now heads an ISU study on surviving a collision with a near-Earth object.
An impact of the size that wiped out the dinosaurs hasn't happened since long before the rise of humans, he pointed out.
Yet scientists' expanding knowledge of asteroids and craters left throughout the solar system has created a consensus that Earth remains vulnerable to a civilization-crushing collision.
This calls for the creation of a space age Noah's ark, Burke said.
Humans are just beginning to send trinkets of technology and culture into space. NASA's recently launched Phoenix Mars Lander, for example, carries a mini-disc inscribed with stories, art, and music about Mars.
The Phoenix lander is a "precursor mission" in a decades-long project to transplant the essentials of humanity onto the moon and eventually Mars. (See a photo gallery about the Phoenix mission.)
The International Space University team is now on a more ambitious mission: to start building a "lunar biological and historical archive," initially through robotic landings on the moon.
Laying the foundation for "rebuilding the terrestrial Internet, plus an Earth-moon extension of it, should be a priority," Burke said.
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