When Cassini-Huygens enters orbit around Saturn on Wednesday, June 30, 2004, it will carry with it something very personal from over 600,000 inhabitants of Earth -- their signatures or, in some cases, their paw prints! A small DVD, containing a record of 616,400 handwritten signatures from 81 countries, is mounted on the Cassini orbiter. Planetary Society volunteers spent months sorting, counting, and scanning all of the signatures, as well as the inked cat and dog prints from a few proud pet owners, for the DVD.
Charley Kohlhase, Planetary Society Advisor and Cassini's Science and Mission Design Manager, was asked by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to coordinate a public outreach project to gather signatures to carry on Cassini. Kohlhase explained in an interview on The Planetary Society's website, "A signature is just as unique as a fingerprint, and back in the 1950s, even when JPL was conducting just rocket launches, engineers would often write their names with a grease pencil somewhere on either the skin of the vehicle or inside."
Unlike other more recent space missions that carried names transcribed from a typed data-base, Kohlhase said, "Cassini may have been among the last projects that just took the 'John Henry' right off a piece of paper."
Recognizable signatures include those from celebrities like Patrick Stewart and Chuck Norris as well as those of Jean-Dominique Cassini and Christian Huygens, for whom the mission is named. Their signatures were copied from 17th century documents. At least one of Cassini's descendants, Mary Cassini of Australia, also sent a signature on the journey to Saturn.
Protected in a shallow aluminum box with two plates around it, the disc could last a million years or more in orbit through the Saturnian system. "All those people who sent in their signatures almost a decade ago are flying with us and, when the orbital insertion takes place Wednesday, they can say -- 'I'm up there!'" said Kohlhase.
In addition to the Kohlhase interview about the signatures flying on Cassini, The Planetary Society offers the Cassini-Huygens web resource at http://planetary.org/saturn, a user-friendly tool for the public to follow the entire mission. Features include exclusive and detailed chronological charts of all upcoming encounters with Saturn and its moons over the four-year Cassini-Huygens mission, Planetary Radio interviews, feature articles and more.
For more information about The Planetary Society or for comments regarding the significance of the Cassini-Huygens mission, please contact Susan Lendroth at 626-793-5100 ext 237.