Your name could take flight to Mars next year.
NASA is inviting people around the world to submit their names to fly aboard the life-hunting Mars 2020 rover, which is scheduled to launch next summer and touch down on the Red Planet in February 2021.
“As we get ready to launch this historic Mars mission, we want everyone to share in this journey of exploration,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C., said in a statement Tuesday (May 21). “It’s an exciting time for NASA, as we embark on this voyage to answer profound questions about our neighboring planet and even the origins of life itself.”
Getting your name (way) out there is easy; just fill out the short form here by Sept. 30. You’ll get a Mars “boarding pass” for your minimal trouble.
Mission team members at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, will use an electron beam to etch submitted names onto a microchip, in lines of text that are less than 0.1% as wide as a human hair. About 1 million names can be squeezed onto a single chip, NASA officials said.
More than one microchip may be needed to handle the demand. NASA organized a similar engagement campaign for the agency’s Mars InSight lander, which touched down on the Red Planet in November 2018, and more than 2 million people submitted their monikers.
Mars 2020 will touch down inside the 28-mile-wide (45 kilometers) Jezero Crater, which harbored a river delta in the ancient past. The six-wheeled robot will hunt for signs of long-dead life, characterize the area’s geology, search for buried water-ice and do a variety of other work. For example, Mars 2020 will test a device designed to generate oxygen from the Red Planet’s thin, carbon-dioxide-dominated atmosphere. That technology, once scaled up, could help humanity establish a Martian outpost.
Mars 2020 will also collect and cache samples for future return to Earth, though NASA is not yet developing a mission that will bring this material home.
And speaking of names, Mars 2020 will get a new one soon. NASA plans to hold a student naming competition, as the agency has done with Red Planet rovers in the past. For example, then-sixth-grader Clara Ma submitted the moniker “Curiosity” for Mars 2020’s predecessor, which has been exploring the Red Planet’s Gale Crater since 2012.
Mike Wall’s book about the search for alien life, “Out There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), is out now. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.