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It seems likely to me that with climate change, pandemics, economic downturns, nuclear or biological warfare that our civilisation could quite easily lose the ability to get into orbit. We could even wipe out ourselves and the majority of species, and it could take many millions of years for something else to evolve and develop orbital capability again.

Has anyone seriously considered building a time capsule and putting it in a high orbit (or on the moon) so it would last for hundreds of millions of years? A good answer should contain links to studies, or project proposals, or well-researched articles on what such a time capsule could contain.

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    $\begingroup$ I actually wrote to NASA asking them if spreading life to other planets should be a priority, before we lose the chance to do so, but they did not reply. $\endgroup$ – Innovine Nov 28 '20 at 9:40
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    $\begingroup$ Does an electronic sports car playing a David Bowie track in heliocentric orbit count? $\endgroup$ – Wiggo the Wookie Nov 28 '20 at 14:02
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    $\begingroup$ The lunar plaques should remain in place until they get damaged by meteorites. Could be millions of years. Not much of a time capsule, but it would show that a previous civilization made it to the moon: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lunar_plaque $\endgroup$ – Wolfgang Nov 28 '20 at 20:00
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    $\begingroup$ I suppose the Voyager doesn't count? $\endgroup$ – BruceWayne Nov 28 '20 at 22:58
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    $\begingroup$ Everything in mankind has launched into space is a time capsule for the technology available when the launch happened. $\endgroup$ – gwally Nov 29 '20 at 9:02
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future

Perhaps a time capsule will feature prominently in one of these: What would be the (most difficult) challenge to make a 10,000 year satellite?

microfilm

Answers to Is there really microfilm on the Moon? say yes and there weren't any microfilm readers taken along, so that's got some time capsule-like qualities to it.

art museum

This answer reminds us that bad boy Andy Warhol and others have some art on the Moon as well that may or may not require interpretation depending on who finds it. It's part of the Moon museum

human remains and (intentional) DNA samples

time capsule per se

See answers to LAGEOS 1's time capsule's positioning in the sattelite and Wikipedia's LAGEOS; Time capsule and for some background on construction see the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center video Laser Geodynamics Satellite (LAGEOS) (screenshot below)

screenshot NASA Marshall Space Flight Center video Laser Geodynamics Satellite (LAGEOS)


Beyond cis-lunar space

There are so many that this would require a separate question, and it may have been asked and answered already.

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    $\begingroup$ In follow up to your Art on the Moon section, Damien Hirst has one of his spot pictures on Mars. It is on Beagle 2 and was going to be used for colour calibration of the camera images. $\endgroup$ – Wiggo the Wookie Nov 28 '20 at 14:00
  • $\begingroup$ @WiggotheWookie excellent! (1, 2, 3) Doesn't exactly meet the definition of "found art", but it's close :-) commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/… $\endgroup$ – uhoh Nov 28 '20 at 14:47
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    $\begingroup$ Since I can't imagine what a trans-civilization Rosetta Stone could possibly look like, I suspect at best we'd be leaving massive mysteries on the level of LinearA/LinearB for the proposed future generations. $\endgroup$ – Carl Witthoft Nov 30 '20 at 13:54
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The chances of those threats causing the extinction of humanity, or even "just" the collapse of industrial civilisation, seem unlikely. For example, this Vox article summarises the discussion about the potential risks of climate change, and the consensus is that this would not be a civilisation-ending threat. There's also the many shelters that could preserve some of humanity even in the event of severe disasters. This doesn't mean we shouldn't plan for these threats and take steps to mitigate them, but it's important to remember.

As for your actual question, uhoh has already given a good answer about the various time capsules we already have in space. To expand on that answer, I'll mention the Voyager Golden Records sent via the spacecraft of the same name. These have a wide range of information like mathematical and physical quantities, chemical formulae, human anatomy and music.

enter image description here (Image from Wikipedia)

Future time capsules might contain similar information.

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    $\begingroup$ The question reads "...and putting it in a high orbit (or on the moon)." Most of the information shown there is helpful mostly if it is found so far from Earth that its readers are scratching one of their three heads with their 17 tentacles trying to figure out where it came from originally. I think the OP is asking about information stored locally in Earth orbit kept safe for future Earthlings while they try to rebuild their civilization after all information is lost on the surface, but I'm not 100% sure that's a correct reading of the question. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Nov 28 '20 at 13:09
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    $\begingroup$ I don't like this answer, because the golden record is unrecoverable, where recovery of my time capsule by a future species from Earth is the principle goal. $\endgroup$ – Innovine Nov 28 '20 at 16:50
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh not necessarily humans, but life originating on Earth, yes. $\endgroup$ – Innovine Nov 28 '20 at 16:50
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    $\begingroup$ Climate change may not be a civilization ending threat, but it may remove our ability to reach orbit (a vastly expensive modern luxury afforded by a few nations only). $\endgroup$ – Innovine Nov 28 '20 at 16:51
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    $\begingroup$ @Innovine - Just sit back and wait for V'ger to return the golden record. $\endgroup$ – Dan Nov 28 '20 at 23:31
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Putting a time capsule in space would be very expensive, the cost will be proportional to weight. So only compact, lightweight and reliable data recording media are possible. Special concern should be readability after a very long time by an alien civilisation.

Microfilm allows compact and durable storage. But silicon wafers offer a much higher density using modern photolithography and will resist higher temperatures and most gases and liquids.

Only one layer of optical readable information is recorded on the wafer, no electronics. The data layer may be protected by a thin transparent layer of silicon dioxide. Microfilm will record up to some hundred lines per mm, silicon wafers more than 10,000 lines per mm. Density per area will be increased by a factor of 10,000. Very thin wafers like the flexible solar cells may be used on both sides to save weight. But such a high density recording would be invisible to the naked eye. How do we tell the aliens that there is information, how to read and how to decode and interpret it?

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    $\begingroup$ Make a big mosaic out of those images, which gets progressively more detailed (i.e., less organized, more random in images) from one side to the other. So, part of it is visible directly. $\endgroup$ – Brad Nov 29 '20 at 6:56
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    $\begingroup$ The question asks if anyone has seriously considered it... I am expecting an answer to link to study results or project proposals.. $\endgroup$ – Innovine Nov 29 '20 at 13:07
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Frame challenge:

Your stated premise is to save information for future humans or even what-comes-after-humans. I would argue that by the time humans who've lost space flight or even more what-comes-after develops space flight that the saved information isn't actually of any use. Curiosity maybe, to tell those future-whatevers about 21st century humans but that's about it. It certainly wouldn't do any good to put information meant to jump-start civilization in such a place, by the time they recover the capsule they've already got all the tech that led to them recovering the capsule in the first place.

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    $\begingroup$ You could maybe archive seeds and dna $\endgroup$ – Innovine Nov 29 '20 at 7:56
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Elon Musk's Tesla counts for any reasonable definition of "time capsule."

https://where-is-tesla-roadster.space/live

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  • $\begingroup$ That thing decayed into unrecognizable junk ages ago. $\endgroup$ – Innovine Nov 30 '20 at 15:21

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