NASA’s InSight, which is set to land on Mars in November 2018 carries a unique cargo. Where you would normally send a commemorative plaque or a coin in the interplanetary probes, the InSight carries a microchip inscribed with 2.5 million names. Out of the 2,429,807 names submitted by the public, 1.6 million of them were collected this year from people who were given downloadable boarding passes for the mission with flight miles and everything.
This total number of names is a result of two rounds of collection. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab received 826,923 names in the 22 day period at the end of August and start of September in 2015. These names are being etched on a 0.8-centimeter square silicon wafer microchip. The thickness of the letters is around one-thousandth the diameter of a human hair and is achieved by an electron beam.
Once complected, the chip will be attached to the top hull of the lander. NASA’s Insight is set to launch in May 2018. The technique was originally developed to produce high-precision nanometer-scale devices. It has been used to etch name chips for the NASA Mars Rovers and Orion’s first test flight.
The Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy, and Heat Transport (InSight) stationary lander is based on NASA’s Phoenix lander. The former landed on the North Pole of the Red planet in 2008. The latter is designed for a 2-year primary mission near the Martian equator. Once there, it will gather data on the Martian interior by monitoring marsquakes.
It has a powerful robotic arm for placing instruments. It has the ability to hammer a heat flow meter 15 feet into the ground. Besides studying Mars, it is tasked with gaining broader insights into the formation of the Red Planet as well as other rocky planets in the inner solar system.