WASHINGTON (DPA) - It will be years before humans land on Mars, but US space agency Nasa said Tuesday (May 21) that while Earth awaits that momentous event, humans will have a chance to send their names to the planet.
Names submitted will be etched on microchips that will then be carried to Mars on a mission due to launch in July 2020 and land on Mars by February 2021.
There will be no humans on the mission but it will have a rover whose job will be to search for signs of past microbial life as well as characterise the planet's climate and geology, collect samples and pave the way for human exploration, Nasa said in a news release.
The programme to send names is part of a public engagement campaign to highlight the multiple missions that are planned as part of Nasa's "moon-to-Mars" initiative.
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.
"As we get ready to launch this historic Mars mission, we want everyone to share in this journey of exploration," said Mr Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for Nasa's Science Mission Directorate (SMD) in Washington.
People who submit their names to a website before the September 30 deadline will receive a souvenir boarding pass and will also receive "frequent flyer" points for each flight and qualify for corresponding digital mission patches available for download.
More than 2 million names were submitted when Nasa conducted a similar programme prior to its InSight mission to Mars.