12:08 PM

NASA To Launch List Of Names Into Space

More than 29,000 people signed up this week to have their names put on a microchip that will travel aboard a spaceship for the Dawn mission.

NASA is encouraging people to add their names to a list that will fly to the asteroid belt.

More than 29,000 people had already signed up this week to have their names put on a microchip that will travel aboard a spaceship for the Dawn mission. The chip has capacity for more than 1 million names, according to NASA consultant Jacinta Behne.

"The goal is to engage the public, let them become part of the Dawn mission," Behne said in an email interview.

The program was announced in October. Those who sign up through the Web site receive a congratulatory message informing them that their names will travel to the asteroid belt. The names will go up at mission launch, which is expected to be announced soon.

The purpose of the Dawn mission is to study the solar system's earliest epoch by investigating Ceres and Vesta, two of the largest protoplanets that have remained intact since their formation. A protoplanet is a "baby" planet whose growth was interrupted by the formation of Jupiter.

Ceres and Vesta are clustered with many asteroids forming a "belt" between Mars and Jupiter. Ceres is thought to be primitive and wet. Vesta is more evolved and dry, according to NASA. Its rocks may be more strongly magnetized than those on Mars.

Scientists hope the exploration will reveal information about the roles size and water play in determining how planets evolve.

During the mission, the public will be able to see mountains, canyons, craters, lava flows, polar caps and maybe ancient lakebeds, streambeds and gullies. Educational and public outreach programs will provide opportunities for public interaction via the Web.

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