- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Ashley Rindsberg is trying to preserve history. As a founder of Earth Capsule, he is collecting uncensored and confidential messages and photographs online for a time-capsule project.

Participants can choose from 200 locations around the world to store their messages. In early 2007, the capsules will be closed, and they won’t be opened for 50 years.

“Primarily, we’d like to create a new tool for writing history,” says Mr. Rindsberg of Queens, N.Y. “We want people to read something that didn’t come from a particular agenda of history, just a snapshot of how history is.”

As technology has advanced, so have ways of saving culture in time capsules. In the past, simply burying things underground served as a way to reintroduce history to later generations. Today, the Internet and contemporary preservation techniques are being used to archive history.

People like to believe the details of their lives are going to matter in the future, says Paul Messier, board member of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works in Northwest. He is an art conservator in private practice in Boston.

He has been consulted for various time capsules about what paper and photographic materials are more likely to last. He advises against including items such as cassette tapes, which could degrade. Also, the playback equipment for a cassette eventually could become obsolete, he says.

“We want to get beyond our temporal restrictions and use our imaginations and think about how our lives today are going to be interesting or relevant to people in the future,” Mr. Messier says. “Making a time capsule is an exercise in reflection. It makes people focus on their daily lives and how they want to be portrayed and understood.”

The Earth Capsule project is using HD-ROMs (high-density, read-only memory discs), a high-capacity technology to store messages and photographs, says Mr. Rindsberg, who is working with Earth Capsule co-founders Evan Strome and Jason Ressler.

An HD-ROM can store hundreds of times more information than a CD-ROM, he says. The focused particle beam of charged gallium ions that writes the data can be used on durable materials, such as metal, making the HD-ROM almost indestructible for storage.

The best part about the HD-ROM technology is that a person doesn’t need era-specific equipment to read the messages.

“It’s burned as a physical image,” Mr. Rindsberg says. “There is no technological digital barrier. You don’t need a Toshiba laptop 2003 to read this. You just need a basic technology which has been around since the 1800s: magnification.”

The metal HD-ROMs with people’s messages and photographs will be stored inside advanced aluminum capsules, Mr. Rindsberg says. People can log onto www.earthcapsule.com to contribute their messages. It costs $1 to write enough for two pages in a text box and $2 for one photo. Users can choose to give 5 percent of the cost to one of six charities. The remainder of the fee goes to the project’s expenses and profit.

Government organizations and semi-governmental organizations, such as museums, city halls and historical societies, are being asked to house the time capsules until their opening in 2057. The organizations will be able to store the capsules however they decide is best.

At least 10 of the capsules will be thrown into the ocean, Mr. Rindsberg says. Though nothing can last forever in salt water, advanced aluminum tends to resist erosion and should last 50 to 100 years, he says.

“The ocean can be a really good vault for a long, long, long time,” Mr. Rindsberg says. “Who knows what tide could take the time capsule to another generation of people? Maybe it could be like discovering the Egyptian pyramids.”

Although there is no guarantee the time capsules with the Earth Capsule project will be opened successfully in 50 years, it’s a good-faith effort to communicate with the upcoming culture, says Paul Hudson, co-founder of the International Time Capsule Society in Atlanta.

He is a professor of history at Georgia Perimeter College in Atlanta and holds a doctorate in history.

“We support time capsules in all shapes and sizes,” Mr. Hudson says. “They might reach across the decades and touch people we might not even know.”

The first known time capsule, or consciously preserved group of artifacts for posterity, is the Crypt of Civilization, Mr. Hudson says. In 1940, the Rev. Thornwell Jacobs sealed a chamber behind a stainless-steel door in an inert gas environment in the foundation of Oglethorpe University in Atlanta. It will not be opened until 8113.

The idea behind Mr. Jacobs’ effort was revealed in Scientific American magazine in November 1936 in an article titled “Today, Tomorrow.” In the chamber, information was preserved on microfilm, with an accompanying magnifying glass. Artifacts such as a sealed ampule of Budweiser beer and badminton rackets also were enclosed.

Using Mr. Jacobs’ idea as inspiration, the Westinghouse Co. put items in a torpedo-shaped vessel and sealed it underground at the 1939 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, N.Y., Mr. Hudson says. A second capsule was buried in 1964. They are to be opened in 6939.

“When you talk about time capsules, you always wonder if they will be lost or forgotten,” Mr. Hudson says. “Technology needs to come up with a way to keep time capsules from being a soggy mess. If you’re going to bury them, there is so much moisture underground, and there is plenty of moisture under the ocean.”

Additions can be made to above-ground time capsules, says Knute Berger, editor of the Seattle Weekly and co-founder of the International Time Capsule Society.

Mr. Berger coordinated the Washington Centennial Time Capsule, which was sealed in 1989. It will be opened in 400 years. Its honeycomb design, however, is meant to allow for artifacts to be added to a new compartment every 25 years. All of the 16 compartments will be opened in 2389 at its current location in the state Capitol in Olympia, Wash.

The capsules are made of stainless steel. The materials inside are in archival containers with argon gas, an inert gas, to keep the items from drying. It looks like a giant safe the size of a wardrobe, he says.

“All we can do is think about how we felt opening vaults or tombs,” Mr. Berger says. “Now people create time capsules with a scientific rigor, not just to commemorate a building, but to scientifically preserve aspects of civilization.”

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