The Genesis Project is my proposal for an initiative to create a backup of humanity's most hard-won knowledge, of sufficient detail to rebuild our civilization from the Radio-Age if we destroy ourselves or experience an extinction-level event such as a comet impact. The backup would reside in a really Safe Place such as on the moon, or in lunar orbit, or in a cometary orbit, or in near-earth orbit. The Genesis Project also involves technologies that can intelligently communicate back to earth to provide a map of backup locations, and perhaps even to teach interactively.
We back up our hard disks, so why not our civilization? In his book Deep Time, Gregory Benford points out that no civilization has lasted very long -- what makes us think ours will be different? Especially given our obsessions with weapons of mass-destruction. Not only that but most of our knowledge is encoded on paper, or worse, in electronic form -- which has a very short shelf-life. Parchment or stone would be much better. The folks at the Long Now Foundation have been working on several projects to create long-term storage media.
Such a backup could be very useful in the case of a major "exinction level event" such as a comet impact or nuclear disaster. But even if the world doesn't end, this project would have tremendous educational value, and could serve as a focus point for raising awareness about our common global fragility.
In my conception of The Genesis Project, we would place a satellite in cometary orbit such that it would intersect with Earth every 50 years or so. The Genesis satellite would have a dead-man's switch on it that, if no qualifying response was received to a challenge issued by radio, would trigger the satellite to begin broadcasting to Earth. In other words, the satellite asks, "Are you guys still OK" and if we don't reply, it assumes something bad happened and begins to try to contact us. The satellite would broadcast locations of backup silos on Earth. It would also be able to interactively serve knowledge via radio link. The user-interface would need to be able to handle simple morse-code as well as, interactive voice response, and more sophisticated TCP/IP communications. This would make it accessible to people on Earth of varying technological capabilities. All that would be needed is a powerful radio transmitter.
Another interesting feature of the Genesis satellite is an optional mylar reflector that could be automatically unfurled if no response was received to its challenge query. This reflector could make the satellite appear like a bright star, visible to the naked eye at night.
The satellite should also be capable of receiving remote updates via uplink, so that knowledge could be continually added or updated.
Organizations such as nations, corporations, universities, professional associations, religious organizations, cultural organizations, and others could pay to sponsor the satellite and in return would receive a certain amount of storage space in which to store whatever knowledge they deemed important to future generations.