'Names' to fly aboard Mars rover

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Space fans have been sending their names to Mars and other extraterrestrial destinations for more than two decades, and it's that time again: From now until September 30, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is taking names for the Mars 2020 rover mission. There, an electron beam will be used to stencil every submitted name onto a silicon chip.

The names will be compiled and stenciled as lines of text smaller than one-thousandth the width of a human hair - which is roughly 75 nanometres.

At that size, more than a million names can be inscribed on a single dime-size microchip.

Nasa is aiming to return humans to the moon by 2024, conduct further exploration of its surface and use what it learns to support sending astronauts to Mars in the 2030s.

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"As we get ready to launch this historic Mars mission, we want everyone to share in this journey of exploration", Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, said. You'll instantly get the opportunity to print out or save a souvenir boarding pass, listing more than 300 million miles' worth of faux frequent-flier award points. The agency also added that the main objective of this rover is to "search for signs of past microbial life, characterize the planet's climate and geology, collect samples for a future return to Earth, and pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet".

The chip will hitch a ride on the rover for its July 2020 launch to Mars.

Participants are also able to download designated digital mission patches as memorabilia, it added.

The Mars 2020 rover, weighing about 1,000kg, will search for signs of microbial life, collect samples of promising rocks and soils and put them aside in a "cache" on Mars, and test technologies that may benefit future expeditions to the planet. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory responsible for managing the Mars 2020 mission and the new rover has turned to its Microdevices Laboratory for help. At least that's what NASA said, and I'll take their word for it. More than two million names are affixed to InSight. After leaving Earth, the spacecraft will spend seven months in space before arriving at Mars in February of 2021. The chip (or chips, if there's enough names), will backpack on the rover to the red planet under a glass cover.

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