Space enthusiasts and even the public now have an opportunity to be on the Red Planet symbolically via the Mars 2020 rover.
Sending Humanity To Mars In A Symbolic Way
NASA is inviting everyone to join the "Send Your Name" campaign that will bring names of at least a million people on Earth to Mars. The names will be stenciled very, very small — just the size smaller than one-thousandth the width of a human hair onto a silicon chip that will be affixed to the rover. The Microdevices Laboratory at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, will use an electron beam to stencil the submitted names. The chip with names will be placed under a glass cover on the rover.
This public engagement activity will represent humanity's first round trip to a neighboring planet. The Mars 2020 spacecraft, with a mission to probe microbial life on the Red Planet, will leave Earth on July 2020 and is expected to reach Mars in Feb. 18, 2021.
"As we get ready to launch this historic Mars mission, we want everyone to share in this journey of exploration," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
A Million Names To Mars
To participate in the project, the public can add their names to the list on the dedicated website until Sept. 30. Information such as first name, last name, country, and postal code are required. A valid email address is also needed to give the sender "Frequent Flyer" points. NASA is recording data information, and users can check their Frequent Flyer Club membership and points on the agency's website.
As proof of their participation, name senders will get a souvenir boarding pass. The launch site indicated on the pass is at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, and the arrival site will be at Jezero Crater on Mars. Flight miles will be awarded for each flight with corresponding digital mission patches for download.
Almost 1.5 million names were submitted since NASA released the invitation. NASA will still screen the names for inclusion to avoid pranksters and spammers from getting their names on the rover.
Sending names to Mars is a symbolic way to have humanity's presence on the planet and NASA's way to hype up public interest and support to its space missions. The last time NASA did this kind of promotion was for the Mars InSight lander, which traveled some 301 million miles on the Red Planet.
Mars 2020 Rover Coming Together
According to its update, NASA tested the Mars 2020 spacecraft early this month in a chamber with the same configurations that the rover will be in while flying through interplanetary space. The 2020 rover will be carrying a new suite of instruments that features sample-caching system for collecting samples on Mars. NASA engineers and technicians also prepared for installation a high-gain antenna on the rover's equipment deck. The antenna can point directly at Earth to uplink or downlink data, allowing the rover to phone home.
JPL is building the spacecraft, and it will also manage operations of the rover for the NASA Science Mission Directorate.