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Astrobotic's Peregrine lander
An artist’s conception shows Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander on the lunar surface. (Astrobotic Illustration)

DNA-based data storage systems have been proposed as a theoretical way to preserve information for millennia on the moon, but the idea isn’t so theoretical anymore.

The Arch Mission Foundation says it’s partnering with Microsoft, the University of Washington and Twist Bioscience to send an archive of 10,000 crowdsourced images, the full text of 20 books and other information on Astrobotic’s 2020 mission to the moon.

All of the data for those files will be encoded in strands of synthetic DNA that could easily fit within a tiny glass bead. The Microsoft-UW-Twist team has already demonstrated how the method can be used for efficient storage and retrieval of data files, including an OK Go music video.

“With DNA, nature really nailed information storage at the molecular scale,” Luis Ceze, a computer scientist at UW’s Molecular Information Systems Lab, said today in a news release. “Our goal at MISL is to explore is to explore how to build revolutionary systems around it.”

The newly announced special collection builds on Arch Mission’s existing partnership with Astrobotic on a different type of Lunar Library. It also builds on a UW project called “Memories in DNA” that lets members of the public submit photos for DNA data storage.

“‘Memories in DNA’ gives everyone an opportunity to participate and a way to preserve cherished memories, and now beyond planet Earth!” Ceze said. “We are honored to be part of this incredible project.”

Photos destined for the lunar mission can be submitted via the “Memories in DNA” website or as an email attachment sent to

The data will be encoded by Twist Bioscience using the process developed jointly with Microsoft and UW. Instructions for sequencing DNA and decoding the information stored in the molecules will be included in Arch’s Lunar Library, which preserves data as microscopic laser-etched text and images.

“With this collaboration, we show the value of human knowledge and the incredible density achieved with storing digital information in DNA,” Microsoft senior researcher Karin Strauss said. “This work with Arch continues to push the boundaries of what’s possible in increasingly exciting ways and remarkable directions.”

Bill Peck, Twist Bioscience’s chief technology officer, said he and his colleagues were excited to support the Arch Mission. “This project pushes the bounds of DNA storage, bringing secure and efficient data storage into a new age,” Peck said.

Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic is planning to send a variety of payloads, including its own CubeRover, to the moon aboard its Peregrine lander. The  mission is set for liftoff on a United Launch Alliance rocket in the 2020 time frame.

The moon project isn’t Arch’s first foray into space-based data storage. The Los Angeles-based foundation was allowed to slip a miniaturized, crystal-encased library that included Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation Trilogy” aboard the Tesla Roadster that was sent into deep space on SpaceX’s maiden Falcon 9 launch in February.

The Arch Mission Foundation also has plans to send miniaturized libraries to Mars and other extraterrestrial locales.

For details about the science behind DNA data storage, check out UW’s news release.

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