Elon Musk's red Tesla Roadster wasn't the most interesting thing that was sent into space aboard SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket last week. The "world's most powerful rocket" also carried a secret second payload, which was designed to last for billions of years even in extremely hostile environments.
Dubbed an "Arch," the second payload was a small storage device, which was built for long-term data archiving. The device, similar to a coin in size, holds libraries of information on a thick disk of quartz crystal with the data engraved into its body with high-frequency lasers.
Nova Spivack, the co-founder of Arch Mission Foundation, said that the development of Arch is part of a broader goal "to preserve and disseminate humanity's knowledge across time and space, for the benefit of future generations."
Developed by Peter Kazansky at the University of Southampton in the UK, the technology behind Arch can theoretically store 360 terabytes of data per 3.75-inch disk of quartz, which equals to as many as 7,000 Blu-Ray disks.
What's even more exciting about the medium is its longevity. The first Arch libraries, called Arch 1.1 and Arch 1.2, aren't expected to degrade for 14 billion years, making them "two of the longest-lasting storage objects ever created by humans."
"We are so honored that Elon is the recipient of the first 2 Arch libraries ever made. If anyone deserves them, it's him. Arch1.1 now resides in Elon's personal library, while Arch 1.2 is enroute with SpaceX to permanent Solar orbit," Spivack said.
The Arch 1.2 disk, which is now being carried as payload on Falcon Heavy, contains Issac Asimov's Foundation trilogy, a sci-fi classic in which the protagonist "endeavors to preserve and expand upon all human culture and knowledge through a 30,000 year period of turmoil."
Named "Solar Library", the Arch 1.2 disk is expected to orbit the Sun for billions of years while developers will continue to deploy additional Arch libraries in the future as part of "an epic human project to curate, encode, and distribute our data across the Solar system, and beyond," according to Spivack.
Subsequent Arch launches are scheduled for 2020 and 2030, with special libraries are currently being designed to be delivered to the surface of the Moon and Mars, respectively.
"We believe that the purpose of life is to evolve and spread intelligence across the universe. Ancient civilizations accomplished this by preserving their data in stone, a very long lasting medium — for example, The Pyramids of Giza," Spivack said.
"But ironically, despite our higher level of technological attainment, our civilization's data is today far less durable than ever before. How can we be great ancestors to those who will follow?"
The Archs, therefore, are expected to be the bearer of the collective knowledge of our existing culture to the future human civilizations.
The Tesla car, which accompanies the Arch 1.2 disk in its space voyage, isn't expected to withstand space radiation for even a year. Therefore, whether these tiny disks can witness humanity's future in space is a question hard to answer, at least for now.