Send your name to NASA to fly aboard Mars 2020 rovertext_fields
Washington: Although it will be years before the first humans set foot on Mars, NASA is inviting the public to submit their names to fly to the Red Planet aboard the US space agency's Mars 2020 rover.
The names -- stenciled on chips -- will be sent on the rover, which represents the initial leg of humanity's first round trip to another planet, NASA said in a statement.
The rover is scheduled to launch as early as July 2020, with the spacecraft expected to touch down on Mars in February 2021, it said.
The rover, a robotic scientist weighing more than 1,000 kilogramme, will search for signs of past microbial life, characterise the planet's climate and geology, collect samples for future return to Earth, and pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet.
"As we get ready to launch this historic Mars mission, we want everyone to share in this journey of exploration," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate (SMD) here.
"It's an exciting time for NASA, as we embark on this voyage to answer profound questions about our neighbouring planet, and even the origins of life itself," Zurbuchen said.
The opportunity to send your name to Mars comes with a souvenir boarding pass and "frequent flyer" points, NASA said.
This is part of a public engagement campaign to highlight missions involved with NASA's journey from the Moon to Mars, it said.
Kilometers are awarded for each "flight," with corresponding digital mission patches available for download.
More than two million names flew on NASA's InSight mission to Mars, giving each "flyer" about nearly 500 million frequent flyer kilometers.
The Microdevices Laboratory at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California, will use an electron beam to stencil the submitted names onto a silicon chip with lines of text smaller than one-thousandth the width of a human hair.
At that size, more than a million names can be written on a single dime-size chip. The chips will ride on the rover under a glass cover.
NASA will use Mars 2020 and other missions to prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.
As another step towards that goal, NASA is returning American astronauts to the Moon in 2024.