Members of the public can now sign up to have their name accompany NASA's much anticipated Mars 2020 rover as it unravels the secrets of the Red Planet. The names will not be stored digitally within a chip, but instead etched upon one by scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, with the help of an incredibly precise electron beam.

The Mars 2020 rover is expected to launch no earlier than July next year from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V-541 rocket. Assuming that there are no major complications and the July date holds, the robotic explorer would be expected to touch down on the surface of the Red Planet in February 2021.

The rover will be capable of drilling for samples that will be stored for a potential return mission to Earth for laboratory analysis. It will also be the first mission to launch a helicopter to scout the surface of the Red Planet. These capabilities, alongside those provided by other instruments mounted on the rover's chassis will allow it not only to characterize Martian geology and atmosphere, but also to help discover whether the world was ever capable of hosting microbial life.

NASA is giving the public a chance to join the Mars 2020 rover as it makes history on the surface of the Red Planet. People who sign up before September 30, 2019, will have their names stenciled on a dime-sized silicon chip by scientists using an electron beam.

Each line of text will be no larger than 75 nanometers in size, which is the equivalent to one-thousandth the width of a human hair. According to NASA, printing at this scale should allow roughly one million names to fit on a single chip. Prior to launch, the chip, or chips, will be mounted on the rover and protected from the elements by a glass cover.

As with earlier NASA outreach campaigns, everyone who signs up to fly along with the Mars 2020 rover will receive a souvenir boarding pass, while those who included an optional email address will also be awarded frequent flyer points. These points essentially keep track of the flights that a user has sent their name to accompany, and allows them to download and collect mission patches.

"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) in Washington. "It's an exciting time for NASA, as we embark on this voyage to answer profound questions about our neighboring planet, and even the origins of life itself."

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