The Planetary Society of Japan (TPS/J) has launched a worldwide campaign to deliver several hundred thousand names to an asteroid on MUSES-C, the first sample return mission to an asteroid. Those interested in sending their names must hurry - the deadline for submissions is July 5, 2002. TPS/J is affiliated with The Planetary Society.
Japan's Institute of Space and Astronautical Science, ISAS, will launch the MUSES-C spacecraft in November or December, 2002. Its destination is Asteroid 1998SF36, which is about 700m x 300m in size.
TPS/J has already collected over 160,000 names in a campaign promoted in Japan with the theme,"Let's fly to meet your star prince," an allusion to the title character in Saint-Exupery's famous story, "The Little Prince." The Little Prince makes his home on an asteroid.
"The Planetary Society maintains close ties with The Planetary Society of Japan and strongly supports the effort to involve the public in the MUSES-C Mission," said Louis Friedman, Executive Director of The Planetary Society. "The mission to return a sample of the asteroid to Earth is a bold and scientifically valuable undertaking,"
MUSES is an acronym for a series of missions that have been launched on a MU rocket using the Space Engineering Spacecraft. "C" indicates that this is the third mission of the series. According to Japanese custom, the mission will receive a permanent name after it is launched.
The names of individuals will be etched on an aluminum foil sheet, which will be enclosed inside a target marker -- a softball-sized artificial ball. The target marker will be released onto the asteroid surface as a guide to enable the MUSES-C spacecraft to touch down safely to collect samples.
ISAS, the space agency responsible for Japanese robotic exploration of the solar system, successfully flew the names of 270,000 people aboard NOZOMI, which is currently en route to Mars.
The MUSES-C campaign is the latest in a series of similar ventures sponsored by The Planetary Society. Previous Society programs to send names to space include the Mars Pathfinder in 1997; Stardust, launched in 1999, and The Planetary Society's own Cosmos 1, The first solar sail.
TPS/J is the first international affiliate of The Planetary Society. Since its inception in 1999, the Japanese organization has sponsored a variety of public outreach activities through its website and publications, both independently and in cooperation with The Planetary Society.