Looking for an unusual gift? Why not fly your friends and family - or at least their names - to Mars for the ultimate holiday surprise!
In 2007, The Planetary Society will send a DVD to Mars aboard Phoenix, NASA's newest Scout mission. The disk will include "Visions of Mars," a collection of 19th and 20th century stories and art, and the names of individuals from around the world who sign up by the February 1, 2007 deadline. Once a name is entered on The Planetary Society website, a certificate, stating that name's inclusion on the Phoenix Mars DVD, can be downloaded.
From now until January 5, 2007, anyone who uploads a name can choose to download a special holiday version of the certificate. Wrapped in a printed ribbon - and suitable for framing - it may just be the most unusual gift one could give or receive. Better yet, certificates suit every budget since they are absolutely free to download.
People everywhere are encouraged to submit names to fly to Mars, including those of children and grandchildren, classmates, friends, or even a favorite family pet.
Phoenix will be the first lander to explore the Martian arctic, landing near 70 degrees north latitude. Designed to search for and study water ice, the spacecraft is a fixed lander with advanced instruments and a robotic arm that can dig up to a meter into the soil. The Phoenix team hopes to uncover clues in the icy soil of the Martian arctic about the history of near surface ice and its potential for habitability. Launching in August 2007, Phoenix will land on the Red Planet in May 2008.
The DVD is attached to the deck of the Phoenix lander and will appear in some of the calibration images that the spacecraft sends back from the surface. So not only will the names be sent to Mars, the disk that carries them will be visible. Built to last for at least many hundreds of years, the DVD should prove much more durable than most of the gifts exchanged during this holiday season.
The Phoenix Mission is led by Principal Investigator Peter H. Smith of the University of Arizona, with project management at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and development partnership with Lockheed Martin Space Systems. International contributions for Phoenix are provided by the Canadian Space Agency, the University of Neuchatel (Switzerland), the University of Copenhagen, and the Max Planck Institute in Germany.