How much would you pay for a safety deposit box? And what would you put into it? Your most precious assets, of course. Items of great value. Jewells, gold, gems, deeds, wills, and irreplaceable documents. It would be something for the future in case something happened to the present. Something to help you preserve or recover.
Now, how much would your country pay for such a box? And what would be placed within it? Actually, something very similar to yours. Items very precious. Items valuable. Something for the future. It would be knowledge in all forms, seeds, documents, manuals, frozen embryos, perhaps even irreplaceable artifacts.
And yes, where is the box to be located? Someplace safe, of course, and not really here on our home planet, which is getting more vulnerable every year.
There’s an alternative.
Orbiting in earth’s neighborhood are hundreds of asteroids, generally known as Near Earth Objects, or NEOs. One of these could become the location of a nation’s safety-deposit box. A big box. As big as a small town.
Of course, there’s a big problem right away: It’s expensive.
Even a near Earth Asteroid would be heart-breakingly expensive to get to, colonize, and settle. ‘Too much’, say many experts. As of now, no matter what the mineral or manufacturing return, major industry leaders protest that any colonization project would be too expensive to try. They continue on to say the reasons are just not good enough.
So, how about another reason?
Why not make an investment solely for the future? In other words, a safety-deposit box. We’re talking about a hedge fund against catastrophe.
Located on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen near Longyearbyen, we have the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, 810 miles from the North Pole. It is a secure seed bank where hundreds of thousands of seeds are stored, carefully preserved and maintained. In case of a huge disaster affecting food crops, such as war or plague, these seeds can be used to start over. Scattered around the world are similar facilities, also storing sperm, ova, and embryo samples. For that matter, although they were not intended to be ‘knowledge’ depositories, we have thousands of libraries, with millions of books, all containing the knowledge we have acquired over thousands of years.
What if some sort of consortium got together and raised the funding for establishing such a depository out in space? It would be a project like the great library of Alexandria, which was established to be a center of knowledge and learning for the whole ancient world. Inside this asteroid would be vaults, living quarters, and storage facilities could be established on one of these near earth asteroids. Universities, research foundations, governments, and even museums could be persuaded to donate modest funds in return for the prospect of duplicating and storing some of their most critical records and data. In short, we’ll have a seed bank far out in space, secure and out of reach of any earthly disasters.
The means to do so are already in our grasp. We all know how much data could be reduced in size, recorded and stored intact on microchips. Not only text, but it could be stored along with pictures, sounds, and videos. 3-D images of our most famous artifacts and statues could be treated in similar fashion. In the not too distant future, it is possible that living tissue and embryo samples could be mapped, stored, and printed in the same fashion.
Pick an orbiting NEO such as an Aten or Amor body, and its orbit would carry it well away from earth’s orbit for several years. However, just like some cosmic travelling schedule, it would be returning on a regular basis, almost like a regular train. In other words, we would know exactly when it would be back in our neighborhood for updating and refurbishment.
Just to add to the human mix, a staff of colonists could be established on board. Not purely as astronauts: Caretakers. But, they could double as astronomers, material researchers, and collectors, also. After all, these objects would journey well out into the main asteroid belt, and close to the orbit of Jupiter. It is certain that additional samples of these bodies could be easily collected. On that note, how much would a series of close-up observations of Jupiter itself be worth? Thus, a return back to Earth’s neighborhood would be a festive and scientifically profitable event.
There are risks; no one could argue that fact. The history books we have now tell of the first colonies in the new world losing nearly half their populations to disease hostile locals, and famine. The new world was a hostile environment to Europeans, without a doubt. Outer space will be no different. But, it can be done.
The immediate rewards may not be financial at all. But what about that little piece of mind we would have of having at least a crumb, even a speck of all of knowledge and heritage out there far away and safe?
By the way, once the project is rolling, it doesn’t have to be solely for academics. The project would be open to anyone with the funding for such storage. We have already had many individuals who chose to be cremated after death, and their ashes were placed in small capsules and launched into space. How about a posthumous trip to Jupiter? Rock star recordings, family records, personal photos, and diaries, essays, or any personal items that someone would want to preserve for the indefinite future could be taken along.
Pay the fee, and a small part of you can continue onwards for millions of years.
Here, though, is the real kicker. This facility could be a beachhead and a bridge. For whatever reason, once a facility is established, it will grow. History has many examples of small, isolated outposts, such as trading stations, mining sites, and even observatories, attracting a small group of near-by residents, and eventually they became cities. Out here in space, once a facility has been established, there will be service ships, maintenance facilities, ‘piggy-back’ operations, and even more settlers.
Indeed, the main facility will need a lock on the door. After all, no neighborhood is perfect. Ask any college campus.