When NASA's Perseverance Mars rover launches this summer, lots of folks here on Earth will be along for the ride.
Perseverance is carrying the names of more than 10.9 million people who participated in NASA's "Send Your Name to Mars" campaign, agency officials announced Thursday (March 26).
Engineers used electron beams to stencil the monikers onto three small silicon chips, which were installed, along with a commemorative placard, on Perseverance's body on March 16. The chips also contain the essays of the 155 students who made it to the finals of NASA's rover-naming contest. That contest was won by Alex Mather, a seventh grader from Virginia.
"The three chips share space on the anodized plate with a laser-etched graphic depicting Earth and Mars joined by the star that gives light to both," NASA officials wrote in a statement Thursday.
"While commemorating the rover that connects the two worlds, the simple illustration also pays tribute to the elegant line art of the plaques aboard the Pioneer spacecraft and golden records carried by Voyagers 1 and 2," they added. "Affixed to the center of the rover's aft crossbeam, the plate will be visible to cameras on Perseverance's mast."
Perseverance, the centerpiece of NASA's Mars 2020 mission, is scheduled to lift off between July 17 and Aug. 5, the brief window when Earth and the Red Planet are aligned properly for interplanetary missions. Such windows open just once every 26 months. The car-size rover remains on track to launch this summer despite the coronavirus outbreak, NASA officials have said.
Perseverance will land in February 2021 inside Mars' Jezero Crater, which harbored a lake and a river delta in the ancient past. The six-wheeled robot will hunt for signs of ancient Mars life, characterize the area's geology and test out some new Mars exploration technologies, including a small helicopter scout and an instrument that generates oxygen from the planet's thin, carbon dioxide-dominated atmosphere.
Perseverance will do a number of other things as well. For example, the rover will also collect and cache samples, which could make it back to Earth as soon as 2031 via a joint NASA-European Space Agency fetch project. Once the samples are here, researchers around the world will scrutinize them for possible signs of life and clues about the ancient Martian environment.
Perseverance won't be the first NASA craft to carry millions of names to the Red Planet. For example, 2.4 million monikers made the trip aboard NASA's InSight lander, which touched down near the Martian equator in November 2018.
- Mars 2020: The Red Planet's next rover
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- Photos: Ancient Mars lake could have supported life
Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.
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