If you want your boarding pass to Mars, act quickly. The gate will close at 11:59 pm ET on Monday, September 30. Yes, that’s today.
No, this isn’t a chance for you to visit the Red Planet in person. NASA has invited the public to submit their names to travel aboard the Mars 2020 rover.
The names will be etched on microchips and make the journey to Mars next summer.
And that’s not all. While your tiny, tiny name lands on another planet, you can frame your souvenir boarding pass.
So far, more than 10 million names have been submitted. More than two million names alone have been submitted from Turkey, followed by 1.7 million from India and 1.4 million from the US.
And if you’ve submitted your name for a ridealong on previous missions, NASA will grant you some “frequent flyer” miles.
A lab for microdevices at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory will use an electron beam to stencil in names that the public submits, NASA said. The names will be etched on a silicon chip in teeny-tiny text (smaller than the width of a human hair). So NASA could easily put more than a million names on a single chip that’s the size of a dime. One or more chips will sit under a glass cover on the rover.
NASA did something similar when it sent its InSight lander to Mars, which reached the planet last year. More than two million names are affixed to InSight.
The Mars 2020 rover is about the size of a small car and weighs 2,300 pounds. The rover will collect samples that could be returned to Earth by future missions. It will search for signs of possible ancient life on Mars and study Martian climate and geology.
And before it launches, the rover itself will bear a new name.
This is a tradition with the Martian rovers. Before it was dubbed Curiosity, the previously deployed rover was known as the Mars Science Laboratory.
NASA has launched a nationwide “Name the Rover” contest that gives K-12 students in US schools a chance to name the 2020 rover.
The space agency hopes the contest will inspire students’ interest in science, technology, engineering and math – or STEM – and give them an opportunity to learn more about the science and engineering that allows us to explore Mars.
Students can submit their chosen name for the rover, along with a short essay about why their name should be chosen, by November 1. Judges will divide the names into grade-level groups and assess the entries based on originality, significance and appropriateness of the name.
The public will be able to vote on the nine finalists in January 2020 and the name will be announced in February.
Doug Criss contributed to this story.