A leaf from the ancient Bodhi Tree, under which the Buddha is believed to have received enlightenment, is among several relics from India that may have landed on the Moon aboard an Israeli spacecraft, months ahead of the Chandrayaan-2’s scheduled lunar landing.
Beresheet (Hebrew for ‘the beginning’) began its journey aboard a SpaceX rocket on February 21 to become the first privately-funded spacecraft to land on the Moon.
But Beresheet crashed into the moon during a failed landing attempt on April 11, Wired reported.
The mission was conceived by Arch Mission Foundation, a US-based nonprofit whose goal is to create “a backup of planet Earth.”
Beresheet was carrying the foundation’s first lunar library, a DVD-sized archive called the Arch Lunar Library that contains a “30 million page archive of human history and civilization, covering all subjects, cultures, nations, languages, genres, and time periods.”
The foundation’s co-founder, Nova Spivack, has told The Hindu that the Arch Lunar Library also contained a leaf and some soil from the Bodhi tree; material on learning Hindi, Urdu; and information on music.
“The management of Mahabodhistupa (Bihar) privately gave me a leaf from the Bodhi tree and some soil from under the Bodhi seat. These were included,” The Hindu quoted him as saying. “We mixed these with relics from saints and yogis, as well as earth from sacred caves and tiny bits of relics from India, China, Bhutan, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Nepal and Tibet.”
However, earlier this week, Spivack also revealed that the Arch Lunar Library was carrying thousands of tardigrades: microscopic, multi-cellular animals, also known as water bears, for their ability to survive for years without food or water in hostile environments.
“It is believed that the Lunar Library survived the crash of Beresheet and is intact on the Moon according to our team of scientific advisors based on imagery data provided by NASA,” the Arch Mission Foundation said in a statement on its website.
That means the tardigrades could be the first living organisms on the surface of the moon.
The presence of tardigrades aboard the Beresheet was kept a secret for “obvious reasons,” Spivack told The Hindu, insisting that the foundation had not “violated any provisions of the Outer Space Treaty,” a global, United Nations-backed agreement that bars countries from pursuing actions that could “harmfully contaminate” outer space including the Moon.
The foundation says that Arch Lunar Library is “designed to preserve the records of our civilization for up to billions of years.”
“The Library is housed within a 100-gram nanotechnology device that resembles a 120mm DVD. However, it is actually composed of 25 nickel discs, each only 40 microns thick, that were made for the Arch Mission Foundation by NanoArchival.”
Founded in 2015, the Arch Mission Foundation sent its first archive— containing Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy inscribed in a quartz disc— to space in 2018 in the glove compartment of Elon Musk’s Tesla.