Stepping foot on Mars may still remain a dream for years to come, but the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is offering an intriguing alternative for space enthusiasts to have a small stake in its upcoming Mars mission.
NASA announced in a statement on Wednesday (May 22) that it is giving people all over the world an opportunity to have their names stenciled on chips that will be sent to the red planet on board the agency’s Mars 2020 rover.
The agency said the initiative is part of a public engagement campaign to draw greater awareness to NASA’s journey from the Moon to Mars and the missions involved.
According to the statement, the Microdevices Laboratory at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, will use an electron beam to stencil the submitted names onto small silicon chips that will be carried by the rover under a glass cover.
While participants would be proud to have their names immortalised in the history books of space exploration, they shouldn’t expect it to be conspicuous enough for all the world to see.
The names will be compiled and stenciled as lines of text smaller than one-thousandth the width of a human hair – which is roughly 75 nanometres.
More than a million names can be engraved into a chip the size of a dime, and you will only be able to read your own name with a powerful microscope.
If that sounds disappointing, in addition to flying your name to Mars, each participant will also receive a commemorative souvenir boarding pass and “frequent flyer” points which correspond to the distance of each “flight” or mission.
A similar initiative in 2018 saw over two million names flown on the agency’s InSight mission to Mars, with each participant awarded approximately 500 million frequent flyer kilometres.
NASA did not specify in its statement what the points can be used for.
Participants are also able to download designated digital mission patches as memorabilia, it added.
Interested individuals have until September 30 to submit their names on NASA’s Mars 2020 Pass website.
At time of writing, more than 1.6 million names have been submitted.
Mars 2020, NASA said, represents the initial phase of humanity’s first round trip to another planet, with the rover scheduled to launch as early as July 2020. It will land on Mars in February the year after.
The rover – which weighs over a tonne – will embark on a search for signs of past microbial life, characterise the planet’s climate and geology as well as collect samples to be brought back to Earth, serving as a stepping stone for future Mars exploration by humans.
NASA further explained that it is working on returning American astronauts to the moon by 2024, in tandem with its preparation for human exploration of Mars and beyond.
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