Buying tickets into space has typically been the reserve of governments and billionaires, but if you want to send your name on an interplanetary jaunt NASA might now be able to accommodate you. The space agency is now accepting submissions from members of the public who'd like their names recorded on a silicon microchip and shuttled to the Red Planet onboard the InSight Mars lander launching next year.
This is not the first time NASA has offered such a service. Last December, 1.38 million names flew on a chip aboard an unmanned test flight for the Orion spacecraft, which will carry astronauts into deep space on Orion Exploration Mission-1 that is expected to launch no later than 2018. Participants are given "frequent flier" points that provide them with alerts of future missions and a "boarding pass" in appreciation of their support of NASA.
InSight is scheduled to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California in March 2016, and will be the first planetary mission to launch from the US west coast. The stationary lander is based on NASA’s Phoenix lander, which set down at the Martian North Pole in 2008, and is designed for a 720-day primary mission near the Martian equator.
It has 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 insights into the formation of rocky planets in the inner Solar System.
People can submit their names for inclusion on the flight to NASA until September 8.