Since Richard Branson hasn't gotten around to offering Mars vacations yet (he's still working out that whole suborbital thing), we're all pretty much stuck here on Earth for the time being. But NASA understands the human desire to write our names upon the stars, so it's giving everybody a chance to shoot their names up into space on the first Orion mission, scheduled to launch December 4.
The collected names will be included on a microchip the size of a dime. The first trip will be on board NASA's initial test flight for the new Orion spacecraft. It's set for a 4.5-hour mission in orbit around Earth. It will then take a flying leap back through the atmosphere and land in the Pacific Ocean.
That's a pretty cool journey for your name to take, but NASA has bigger plans. Orion isn't just for toodling around the Earth. It's designed to one day carry astronauts on long missions to visit asteroids and Mars. When you sign up to send your name off into space on Orion, you're signing up to send your name to Mars at some future time.
Currently, nearly 95,000 people have submitted names to fly to Mars. To sign up, you just go to NASA's name-collecting site, fill out some basic information, and submit. The site then generates a digital "boarding pass." You get the simple message "Success! Your name will fly on Orion's flight test." Next, enjoy a happy little chill up your spine as you imagine your name zipping through the atmosphere and some day taking up residence on Mars.
"NASA is pushing the boundaries of exploration and working hard to send people to Mars in the future. When we set foot on the Red Planet, we'll be exploring for all of humanity. Flying these names will enable people to be part of our journey," says Mark Geyer, Orion Program manager.
NASA also will be tracking mileage for all of our names, giving us a spacey version of frequent-flyer award points. The points are just for fun, but it's also a way to keep the public engaged and following along with these groundbreaking missions.
The deadline for getting your name on Orion's inaugural flight is October 31. If you miss Orion this time, NASA will still give newcomers an opportunity to sign up for name fly-alongs on future missions. I, for one, am looking forward to the day when I can say, "My name just arrived at Mars!"