Mars, the Red Planet, may seem beyond reach in this view from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope in 2003. But the space company Uwingu has launched a "Beam Me to Mars" project to let the public send messages to the Red Planet in order to raise funds for space exploration.
You may never set foot on Mars, but your words and pictures could land there later this year.
The space-funding company Uwingu launched its "Beam Me to Mars" project today (Aug. 19), inviting people to contribute, for a fee, to a "digital shout-out" that will send messages from Earth to the Red Planet on Nov. 28 — the 50th anniversary of Mars exploration. (The messages won't be read or recorded by anyone on Mars, of course, but they'll be archived here on Earth, and participants will receive a commemorative certificate.)
The first successful Mars mission, NASA's Mariner 4, launched on Nov. 28, 1964. "Beam Me to Mars" celebrates that landmark effort in a new and original way, Uwingu representatives said. [The Boldest Mars Missions in History]
"We want it to inspire people," said Uwingu CEO Alan Stern, a planetary scientist and former NASA science chief. "There has never been an opportunity before for people of Earth to shout out across the solar system their hopes and wishes for space exploration, for the future of mankind — for any of that."
Other goals for Beam Me to Mars include raising lots of money to fund space science, exploration and education (Uwingu's stated chief purpose) and letting policymakers know how important space exploration is to their constituents, Stern added.
"We want to make an impression on leaders," he told Space.com. "The more messages, the bigger impression it makes. If this thing goes viral, and it becomes the thing to do, then it'll make a huge impression."
All messages submitted for Beam Me to Mars will also be hand-delivered to Congress, NASA and the United Nations, Stern said. (Disclaimer: Space.com managing editor Tariq Malik has provided a 1,000-character message to the Beam Me to Mars database.)
You can beam your name — or someone else's — to the Red Planet for $4.95. For $9.95, you can contribute a name and a 100-character message, while $19.95 gets you a 1,000-character note instead of the shorter one. If you want to splurge, $99 gets you a name, a long message and an image of your choosing. The messages will be searchable for free on Uwingu's website, company representatives said.
Submissions must be made via uwingu.com by Nov. 5. Uwingu (whose name means "sky" in Swahili) and its transmission partner, communications provider Universal Space Network, will use radio telescopes to beam the messages at Mars on Nov. 28 at the rate of 1 million bits per second.
The transmission, traveling at the speed of light, will reach the Red Planet on that day in just 15 minutes, Uwingu representatives said. For comparison, it took Mariner 4 more than seven months to get to Mars a half-century ago. The probe didn't touch down, but its historic flyby in July 1965 provided the first up-close look at the surface of another planet from deep space.
Mariner 4's observations revealed that Mars is a dry and mostly desolate world, dashing the hopes of some people who had viewed the Red Planet as a possible abode for extant life.
This is not the first Mars effort for Uwingu, which was founded in 2012. In February, the company launched its "People's Map of Mars," asking the public to name Red Planet landmarks for a small fee. To date, people have named more than 12,000 Mars craters, and Uwingu has set aside more than $100,000 for grants, company representatives said.