When NASA's InSight lander touches down on Mars in November 2018, it will have an unusual cargo. Where other interplanetary probes might carry a commemorative plaque or maybe a coin, InSight will have a microchip inscribed with the names of 2,429,807 names submitted by the public, including over 1.6 million names collected this year, who were provided with downloadable "boarding passes" for the mission complete with "flight miles."
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory says this total follows the second round of names submitted by the public to accompany the mission. In 2015, the space agency received 826,923 names over a 22-day period in August and September 2015. The names are being etched on a 0.8 cm² silicon wafer microchip using an electron beam to form letters with lines one one-thousandth the diameter of a human hair.
This chip will then be attached to the top hull of the lander, which is scheduled to launch in May of 2018. Though originally developed to produce high-precision nanometer-scale devices, the etching technique was used to create name chips for the NASA Mars rovers and Orion's first test flight.
The Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) stationary lander is based on NASA's Phoenix lander, which set down at the Martian North Pole in 2008. It is designed for a 720-day primary mission near the Martian equator, where is will gather data on the Martian interior by monitoring marsquakes. It features a robotic arm for placing instruments, including hammering a heat-flow meter up to 15 ft (4.5 m) into the ground. Its purpose is not only to study Mars, but also to gain broader insights into the formation of rocky planets in the inner Solar System.
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