American students will have a chance to take part in a global effort to fund, design, launch and then land small payloads on Mars under a Time Capsule to Mars initiative launched in Washington, D.C.
As befits the interests of the world's younger generations, the mission payloads will include digital messages, videos, photos or audio files, all contributed from around the globe, mission organizers said at a kick-off ceremony at the National Press Club.
The plan will benefit from the growing technology of "CubeSats," small payloads no bigger than a shoebox that can piggyback on major space missions for a free ride from Earth into space.
A giant $25 million crowdfunding campaign has been announced for the world's first student-led mission to deliver digital content payloads to Mars, where it is hoped future Red Planet colonists will recover them.
As part of the funding effort, people around the world can pay 99 cents for every image, video or audio clip or text message (up to 10 megabytes) they wish to contribute to the mission's digital payload.
In developing countries, submissions will be free, with corporate sponsors underwriting them.
"We hope to inspire and educate young people worldwide by enabling them to personally engage and be part of the mission," said Jon Tidd, director of marketing and fundraising for Time Capsule to Mars. "The distributed approach to funding and personal engagement will ultimately guarantee our success."
The mission, already in development for a year with a goal of launching in 2017, is being supported by NASA and by a number of aerospace firms. It is being taken on as an official project by the nonprofit organization Explore Mars.
One adviser to the mission is retired NASA astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon.
The mission is the brainchild of Emily Briere, a Duke University junior who came up with the idea of involving students from around the world, with scientists acting as mentors, to gather both financial and technical support for the effort.
"I was at the first Humans to Mars conference [at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.] with my dad and brother and was surprised that there weren't more young people, students, involved," she says.
Looking for a way to interest people her age in space, she came up with the concept of sending videos, photos and messages to Mars.
"Our generation is all about social media and connecting, and [the Time Capsule to Mars] would be an extension of that," she says. "People would feel a real part of it -- going into space virtually. We'll be taking another step to connect Earth and Mars."