The moon should be developed as a sanctuary for civilization in case of a cataclysmic cosmic impact, according to an international team of experts.
NASA already has blueprints to create a permanent lunar outpost by the 2020s.
But that plan should be expanded to include a way to preserve humanity's learning, culture, and technology if Earth is hit by a doomsday asteroid or comet, said Jim Burke of International Space University (ISU) in France.
An impact of the size that wiped out the dinosaurs hasn't happened since long before the rise of humans, he pointed out.
Yet scientists' expanding knowledge of asteroids and craters left throughout the solar system has created a consensus that Earth remains vulnerable to a civilization-crushing collision.
This calls for the creation of a space age Noah's ark, Burke said.
Humans are just beginning to send trinkets of technology and culture into space. NASA's recently launched Phoenix Mars Lander, for example, carries a mini-disc inscribed with stories, art, and music about Mars.
The Phoenix lander is a "precursor mission" in a decades-long project to transplant the essentials of humanity onto the moon and eventually Mars.
The International Space University team is now on a more ambitious mission: to start building a "lunar biological and historical archive," initially through robotic landings on the moon.
Laying the foundation for "rebuilding the terrestrial Internet, plus an Earth-moon extension of it, should be a priority," Burke said.
The founders of the group Alliance to Rescue Civilization (ARC) agreed that extending the Internet from the Earth to the moon could help avert a technological dark age following "nuclear war, acts of terrorism, plague, or asteroid collisions."
But the group also advocates creating a moon-based repository of Earth's life, complete with human-staffed facilities to "preserve backups of scientific and cultural achievements and of the species important to our civilization," said ARC's Robert Shapiro, a biochemist at New York University.
"In the event of a global catastrophe, the ARC facilities will be prepared to reintroduce lost technology, art, history, crops, livestock, and, if necessary, even human beings to the Earth," Shapiro said.
"The establishment of an ARC sanctuary would for the first time provide a compelling purpose for the colonization of space."
If the international lunar outpost of the 2020s expands into a colony and then a city, "it is possible that a whole new phase in civilization may develop—the branching of history into one stream on Earth and another on the moon," ISU's Burke added.
This "dual-world expansion" could be within reach by the end of this century, he said.
"Look at the last century, when we went from the Wright brothers to the Apollo missions—along with man's great expansion of his understanding of the cosmos."
What an exciting venture! I think that it's an excellent contingency plan for the preservation of our civilization... and yet another justification for the space program!