You can’t visit other planets (yet), but your name can. NASA is sending millions of people’s names to Mars. Unlike those “name a star after yourself” offers, this isn’t a scam; for the low price of “everyone’s tax dollars,” The National Aeronautics and Space Administration will laser-etch your name (or the name of a loved one, pet, or imaginary friend) onto a microchip which will be left behind on a future Mars mission, hopefully within the next few years.
How to send your name to Mars
Table of Contents
It could not be easier to send a name to Mars. Just visit NASA’s site, enter the name you’d like to see on Mars, your country, and your zip code. If you want to give them your email address, you’ll become a member of NASA’s “frequent flyer” club, and be awarded over a billion frequent flyer miles for nothing. You’ll also have your own “boarding pass” to share on Facebook and Twitter, or print out and frame.
There are over 10 million names already on Mars
This is not the first time the space agency has transported fans’ names to the Red Planet. The last time NASA did this, 10,932,295 human names were inscribed on three fingernail-sized silicon chips with an electron beam, and the chips were attached to the Perseverance rover that landed on Mars in 2020. The names have been up on Mars ever since, rolling around with the still-active Perseverance, helping look for water and evidence of past life, and generally having outer space adventures. Lucky!
The surprisingly long history of sending people’s names into space
In order to maintain public interest (and funding) NASA’s and other space agencies often sponsor outreach programs designed to engage with the non-scientist, non-nerd population. Sending people’s names to distant cosmic locations has been found to be an effective way of fostering interest and goodwill.
The first names placed on a monument and sent off earth was in 1971, when a plaque bearing the monikers of 14 astronauts and cosmonauts killed in the line of duty was left on the moon by the crew of Apollo 15.
Sending the names of average citizens to the stars began with space advocacy group The Planetary Society, whose members’ names were miniaturized and included on the 1996 Mars Pathfinder mission, the Cassini probe that crashed into Saturn in 2017, and other space adventures.
So far, around 20 spacecraft have carried names into space, including more than a million names included on NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and 430,000 names included on a CD attached to the New Horizons probe that launched in 2005. The still-operating probe and its virtual passengers have flown past the mission’s original destination of Pluto, and are now in the Kuiper Belt, soon to be outside of our solar system and into the great unknown.
Whether it’s a good idea to give out your name to any old alien who happens to intercept a spacecraft is an open question, but there have not been any extraterrestrial responses as yet.