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How The Planetary Society bought to Mars

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In December 1996, NASA’s Pathfinder spacecraft left Earth, carrying the names of hundreds of Planetary Society members together with it. They turned the very first names collected from the general public to make it to the floor of Mars.

In a humorous coincidence, although, virtually nobody — not even Planetary Society members or staffers — knew the names had made it aboard. It was a historic second that was each meticulously ready and fully sudden.

It began with an thought Louis Friedman shared along with his Planetary Society co-founders, Carl Sagan and Bruce Murray, someday within the mid-’90s. All of them agreed that sending members’ names to Mars was a vital, tangible approach for members to take part in scientific analysis.

“We didn’t simply wish to be cheerleaders,” Friedman mentioned in a latest interview with us. “We wished to provide folks a way of involvement in planetary exploration.”

And so the Society collaborated with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to develop the venture, which might ship members’ names to Mars. They in the end created a chip referred to as MAPEX (microelectronics and photonics experiment) that contained the names.

Earlier than Pathfinder launched, The Planetary Society was additionally working with NASA on a separate venture: a contest to call the rover that will fly on the mission. The winner — a scholar from Bridgeport, Connecticut named Valerie Ambroise — selected the identify Sojourner, after the abolitionist Sojourner Fact.

The Society had a hand in a number of formidable initiatives round this time, however not all of them panned out. MAPEX flew on Russia’s Mars ‘96 mission, however regrettably, the mission failed shortly after launch. NASA had made additional copies of MAPEX in case it could possibly be used on future missions, however nobody knew the place The Planetary Society members’ names would find yourself, if wherever.

NASA lastly discovered an acceptable mission for them: Pathfinder. When the spacecraft landed on July 4, 1997, it was carrying copies of the documentation chip included in MAPEX. The Planetary Society had lastly touched down on Mars.



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