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Press Room

Crack the Code for a Message from Mars!


Mat Kaplan
Phone: +1-626-793-5100

Solve a Martian mystery! Puzzle-lovers around the world can try cracking the code on a Planetary Society and LEGO Company mini-DVD mounted on Spirit, the first of NASA's twin Mars Exploration Rover spacecraft to land on Mars. An image of the DVD assembly, just released, depicts the coded message encircling the DVD.

"The Planetary Society's mission is to engage the public in the excitement of exploring other worlds, and cracking a coded message from the surface of Mars is great hands-on involvement," said Planetary Society Director of Projects, Bruce Betts. "This appeals to the Sherlock Holmes in all of us!"

The LEGO Company partnered with the Planetary Society on the Red Rover Goes To Mars project to help stimulate children's interest in science and technology through NASA's Mars Exploration Rover mission.

"The early days of space exploration stimulated the creativity of an entire generation, expanded our imagination, and encouraged us to push our limits, making us better and braver human beings. With this project, the LEGO Company wants to help bring part of that magic back" said Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, President and CEO of the LEGO Company. "With the success of the Spirit landing, the magic is back!"

When people go to The Planetary Society's web site, they will be shown the image of the DVD and encouraged to submit the decoded message. Every two days, new clues will be released to help people decode the message. Once they have decoded the message, they will be able to input it at the Society's web site and will be able to print a certificate acknowledging their accomplishment. Also, all who successfully enter the decoded message before the correct answer is released will be entered in a random drawing that will award LEGO and Planetary Society prizes to a subset of these cryptographers.

On the web site, they will also have access to a wealth of information about Mars, the Mars Exploration Rovers, decoding, and planetary data encoding. The activity will be challenging for hobbyist code-breakers, but with clues, will enable the general public and especially kids to have a great time with it.

The Planetary Society, in cooperation with the LEGO Company, provided the DVDs to carry to the surface of Mars the names of four million people collected by NASA. The DVD assembly is mounted to the lander that protected Spirit during its landing on Mars. When Spirit rolls forward onto Mars, it will leave the DVD behind as a time capsule.

In addition to the four million names carried on each DVD, the DVD mounting structure includes magnets to collect dust, colors to study color appearance under a Martian sky, and representations of robotic LEGO minifigures that have been personified as Biff Starling on Spirit and Sandy Moondust (who will be landing on January 24). Biff and Sandy's entertaining mission reports are called the Astrobot Diaries and appear on The Planetary Society's website.

"We hope that the fun aspects of the DVD will interest kids and members of the general public who may not otherwise have followed the rover missions, as well as those that would have anyway," Betts said. "Once engaged, we think they will learn and get excited about the mission and space exploration in general."

The DVDs are part of The Planetary Society's Red Rover Goes to Mars project, an official part of the Mars Exploration Rover mission and the first educational experiment selected for a planetary mission.

The DVDs are constructed from silica glass to withstand the high temperatures required to sterilize them of Earth microbes prior to their launch for Mars. Silica glass also enjoys a far greater lifetime than the plastic from which regular DVDs are made, perhaps lasting as long as 500 years - a time capsule on the Martian surface.

The entire DVD and mounting assembly weigh 69 grams and were subjected to a battery of tests designed to simulate the extreme environmental conditions of their journey to and arrival on Mars: temperatures cycling from -125 to 60 degrees Celsius, exposure to vacuum, high-speed random vibration, and shocks of 4,000 times the acceleration of Earth's gravity.

The Planetary Society, in collaboration with the LEGO Company, provided the DVDs to NASA for the Mars Exploration Rover mission. Visionary Products, Inc. implemented the DVD mounting assembly, Plasmon OMS donated the silica glass DVDs and data etching, and the magnets were donated by Jens Martin Knudsen and Morten Bo Madsen, heads of the Danish team who also built the magnets mounted to the Mars Exploration Rovers.

The second Mars Exploration Rover, Opportunity, will land on January 24 carrying another DVD with a different code and a different coded message.


About The Planetary Society

The Planetary Society has inspired millions of people to explore other worlds and seek other life. With the mission to empower the world's citizens to advance space science and exploration, its international membership makes the non-governmental Planetary Society the largest space interest group in the world. Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray and Louis Friedman founded The Planetary Society in 1980. Bill Nye, a longtime member of The Planetary Society's Board, serves as CEO.