archive: SETI Names to Mars and Europa won't last long

SETI Names to Mars and Europa won't last long

Larry Klaes ( )
Tue, 11 May 1999 15:18:52 -0400

What is the point of placing one's name on a
CD-ROM bound for Mars when the planet's environment
will render it unreadble in a matter of days?

This means that the Vision of Mars CD created by
The Planetary Society, preserving thousands of records
about humanity's views on Mars, would also have been
corrupted if it had ever made it past Earth orbit
on the failed Mars '96 probe.

The same will no doubt go for the CD on Cassini bound
for the planet Saturn.

Thankfully at least the messages on Voyager 1 and 2
were placed on a good old-fashioned LP record.

The article which prompted the above tirade:

Write your name on Mars
[ 09:00 p.m. PDT- 05/10/1999 ]

When will you get a chance to visit Mars? Who
knows -- but your name could easily make its way
onto the very next mission.

By visiting the Sign Up For Mars Web site, you can give
NASA your name and let space agency officials burn it
onto a CD-ROM that will be carried to the Red Planet
on the Mars Surveyor 2001 Lander. John Lee, a program
analyst for the Mars 2001 mission, expects to collect
"3 to 4 million names at a minimum."

A similar CD was carried on last year's Mars 98
Polar Lander -- but only school-age kids could
participate. Over 932,000 kids' names were
collected, and Lee says that quite a few adults
wanted in on it, too. [Puleeze - That Web site had
no way of knowing how old anyone was who put their
name on the list.]

Now they're getting their chance. Within a day of
announcing the new CD on a NASA mailing list, nearly
9,000 people signed up to have their names rocketed
into space in April, 2001. Lee says adults are as
excited as kids about the names CD, if not more so.

In fact, he's been hearing from kids who don't want
their names sent to Mars, but who have been added to
the CD by "overzealous uncles." Some kids are afraid
that the CD will be used by Martians to compile an
invasion hit list. [What year is this?!]

The kids have little to worry about: Because of
the high radiation levels on Mars -- the planet has
no atmospheric shield like Earth's ozone layer --
the data on the CD will be damaged beyond
recognition within a few days of landing.

NASA could construct a radiation-proof case for the CD,
but "the added cost to the mission would be considerable."

Instead, the agency will let the CD destruct and will leave
its remains on Mars.

The Mars 2001 Lander is part of NASA's new
philosophy of "Faster, Better, Cheaper," which
attempts to generate maximum scientific returns at
a minimum of cost. The mission will carry a
number of experiments specifically designed to
aid a future human visit to Mars.

Most notable is a system devised to create rocket fuel
out of materials readily available in the Martian
environment, a procedure suggested in the 1996
Robert Zubrin book, "The Case for Mars."

But until the day when tourists can head off to the
Red Planet, the name CDs will give everyday
people a chance to send a bit of themselves to
Mars. Lee expects that the name lists could
become a regular part of NASA missions, at least
those with an element of public interest.

"We'd like to do this on the Europa mission," Lee
says. (Jupiter's icy moon, Europa, will be the
target of an upcoming mission to look for
extraterrestrial life.) [No, Europa Orbiter will
be looking for signs of a liquid water ocean under
the moon's ice, which could mean the presence of
life, but EO will not be looking for life directly.]

[That job could go to something like Icepick.]

[And if you think Mars has destructive radiation,
just wait until the Europa Orbiter CD gets into
Jupiter's radiation belts, where the icy moon is
located deep inside!]

"Humans have a natural inclination to be explorers,"
he says. By adding one's name to the 2001 Lander CD,
Lee purports, "you can be a part of the exploration."

At least for a few days after landing.

-- Jamais Cascio