The names of more than 600,000 people will be part of the fireworks July 3-4 when Comet Tempel 1 collides with the Deep Impact impactor spacecraft.
When Deep Impact was in its final stages of development, organizers in NASA's Education and Public Outreach program created the Send Your Name to a Comet campaign. The Internet-based effort allowed participants to sign their name up for destruction and print out an official certificate documenting their place on the list.
"We thought it would be fun for people to say their name was on the impactor that collided with the comet," organizer Maura Roundtree-Brown told SPACE.com. "We thought it would let them feel like they were part of the mission."
Although people could submit their names between May 2003 and January 2004, a large number waited until the last minute to sign up.
"In the end they were trying to sign up so fast that it was almost more than the system could take," Roundtree-Brown said. "In all we got about 625,000 names. It was a surprise."
Once registration closed, the list was burned onto a mini-CD and attached to the spacecraft -- tucked under the thermal blanketing to make sure no harm could come to it.
No amount of thermal blanketing will protect the CD on this holiday weekend when the impactor and comet slam together at 23,000 mph.
"It will be vaporized along with the impactor," Roundtree-Brown said.
At least one group of names on the list will be eagerly watching the sky, waiting for impact. Dee McLellan's seventh grade class at the Meadow Creek School in Andover, Minnesota did a special Deep Impact math project.
McLellan designed a class project where her students collected an amount of pennies equivalent to the mass of the impactor's copper tip -- about 300 pounds. That's a lot of pennies -- around 50,000 -- and the whole town helped the kids come up with the total.
By the end of the project, the students had raised $500, which they donated along with school supplies to their sister school in the Ukraine.
"The first we heard about it was that the class contacted us asking how much of the total mass of the impactor was copper," Roundtree-Brown said. "The exciting and successful thing for us as an outreach project is when it goes out of our hands to teachers and students and, in this case, a whole community."
While NASA will have to wait until Monday to see if they hit the mark with their impactor, Roundtree-Brown is pleased with the way the Send Your Name to a Comet campaign turned out.
"I was surprised how many people sent us emails and said that being able to submit their names to the impactor made them feel like they were part of the mission," Roundtree-Brown said. "And that's why we did it -- because it would be fun for people to be connected to the mission."
- Deep Impact: Viewer's Guide and Mission News