David Wagner is going to Mars. No, not me. Only my name. I haven't been picked as an astronaut on a special mission (though I'd go if chosen). I'm part of NASA's Frequent Flyer program, which allows me to put my name, along with hundreds of thousands of others, on a microchip that will be sent to Mars on the March 2016 InSight mission which will study the Red Planet's geological history.
Here is my boarding pass. I'm earning over 297 million miles this trip:
The Frequent Flyer Program allows ordinary citizens to get a small part of the excitement of the space journey, and put their name on another planet. The first Frequent Flyer mission was during the Orion flight test mission, and more than 1.3 million people signed up to have their name imprinted on a microchip and sent into space for that mission. There are three more flights after InSight.
The first is Exploration Mission 1, which will be an unmanned test flight of the craft expected to send people to Mars. It will launch in September 2018 and, if all goes to plan, it will go around the moon before coming back.
The next is the Mars 2020 mission, which will send a rover to Mars that might even include a small helicopter to fly over the surface.
[ And there other cool tests about landing and flying on Mars. Read NASA's Flying Saucer One Step Closer to Mars. ]
The final mission is the Asteroid Redirect mission which, as you can guess, is intended to redirect an asteroid both as potential defense and also for potential future mining or construction efforts in space. That mission is also scheduled for 2020.
NASA hopes by connecting you to its programs, you'll take a more active interest in space. Think of it like having your name on the donor wall of a museum or on the bricks of a landmark like these bricks that Disneyland sold outside of its gates for many years:
Except your name will live on another planet. In fact, your name might be in another planet. InSight will use sophisticated instruments to delve beneath the Mars surface with seismometers, heat probes, and other equipment to determine the composition and makeup of Mars's interior. NASA hopes it will advance research into how planets are formed, especially planets like our own. Here is video giving more detail:
This sounds like one heck of a plot to a science fiction movie. Imagine InSight lands and the signals it sends deep into the crust of Mars wake the long-dormant intelligence that has lived beneath the surface for ages waiting for Mars to be habitable again. The aliens wake to find the probe and the microchip, which they're able to decode. Then, the aliens decide it is a list of all those responsible for waking them from their slumber, and come to Earth to hunt us all down.
Of course, the more likely event is that the chip will be damaged on the surface of the planet by the impact or the radiation or exposure to the elements. Or, after the two-year planned life of the mission is over, the probe will be turned off, and it will slowly rot. Our best hope is that one day an Earthling will land on Mars, pick up the shattered remains of the InSight probes and retrieve the chip.
No matter what, all of us who sign up are passengers together on a trip to Mars. Our names, if not our bodies, will touch the surface of another planet. For free. NASA isn't even charging us the $50-$100 that most amusement parks or other landmarks charge for such a service. Sounds like a pretty good deal for a chance to be a part of humanity's exploration of space.
What do you think? Poor marketing gimmick or a real chance to be involved? Will any of you join me on this mission? Collect your Boarding Pass and mission patch here, and tell me in the comments section below that you'll be joining me.