NASA asks for your names in space

16 Jan 2014

An artist's concept of NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft preparing to take a sample from asteroid Bennu. Image via NASA/Goddard/Chris Meaney

American space agency NASA is calling on people to submit their names to a database that will be etched onto a microchip for its latest spacecraft bound for the asteroid Bennu in 2016.

While Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft is expected to open the first commercial space flights for passengers this year, spare a thought for the 99pc of people who won’t be able to afford the US$250,000 for a ticket and experience space firsthand.

For everyone else, however, NASA and The Planetary Society are now offering a service that can at least get your name in space via a microchip in a spacecraft heading to Bennu.

The ‘Messages to Bennu!’ microchip will travel to the asteroid aboard NASA’s Origins-Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft and the mission will spend 500 days at the 500 metre-wide asteroid.

The spacecraft will then collect a sample of Bennu’s surface and return it to Earth in a sample return capsule.

Signing up

Those looking to get their name included in the list must submit it before the 30 September deadline. It only takes a moment to sign up.

Participants who then ‘follow’ or ‘like’ the mission on Facebook will receive updates on the location of their name in space from launch time until the asteroid samples return to Earth in 2023. Facebook fans will also be kept apprised of mission progress and late-breaking news through regular status updates.

The goal of the mission is to address basic questions about the composition of the very early solar system, the source of organic materials and water that made life possible on Earth, and to better predict the orbits of asteroids that represent collision threats to the Earth.

Young student Michael Puzio from North Carolina named Bennu. He had been one of more than 8,000 students from dozens of countries across the world who entered a ‘Name That Asteroid!’ contest run by the University of Arizona, The Planetary Society and the LINEAR Project. The name Bennu refers to the Egyptian mythological bird linked with the sun, creation, and rebirth.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic