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U.S. Poet Laureate Ada Limón's verses are soaring into space — literally

The Mexican American's new poem will be engraved on NASA’s Europa Clipper mission spacecraft and travel 1.8 billion miles — and the public can send their names along.
Ada Limón.
Ada Limón.Joe Scarnici / Getty Images for New York Magazines file

U.S. Poet Laureate Ada Limón has revealed her latest poem, which will be featured aboard a NASA spacecraft that will travel billions of miles in space.

The poem, titled “In Praise of Mystery: A Poem for Europa,” will be engraved on NASA’s Europa Clipper mission spacecraft. Europa Clipper will travel 1.8 billion miles to explore Jupiter’s icy moon Europa and gather data on the subsurface ocean, ice crust and the moon’s atmosphere.

The spacecraft is being constructed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California and will launch in October next year from Cape Canaveral, Florida. It’s expected to arrive in the Jupiter system in 2030. 

“Writing this poem was one of the greatest honors of my life, but also one of the most difficult tasks I’ve ever been assigned,” Limón, who recently was appointed as the first poet laureate to serve a two-year second term, through April 2025, said in a statement ahead of an event at the Library of Congress on Thursday. “Eventually, what made the poem come together was realizing that in pointing toward other planets, stars and moons, we are also recognizing the enormous gift that is our planet Earth. To point outward is also to point inward.”

As part of a “Message in a Bottle” campaign, members of the public are encouraged to add their names to fly with the poem. Names must be received by midnight Dec. 31 in order for them to be stenciled onto a microchip to accompany Limón’s poem.

Limón is the first female U.S. poet laureate of Latino and Mexican American heritage. She told NBC News last July that poetry was a way to “reclaim our humanity” and a way to help repair our relationship with the planet.

“Ada Limón is a brilliant poet whose work often connects readers with the natural world, so her Poem for Europa is powerful in communicating our human instincts for art, science and exploration,” Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden said in a statement. “Sending a poem into space on a mission to explore our solar system is an incredible opportunity for us all to reflect and sign on to Ada’s poem as a ‘Message in a Bottle’ from Earth.”

Read Limón’s poem that will travel through space:

In Praise of Mystery: A Poem for Europa

Arching under the night sky inky

with black expansiveness, we point

to the planets we know, we

pin quick wishes on stars. From earth,

we read the sky as if it is an unerring book

of the universe, expert and evident.

Still, there are mysteries below our sky:

the whale song, the songbird singing

its call in the bough of a wind-shaken tree.

We are creatures of constant awe,

curious at beauty, at leaf and blossom,

at grief and pleasure, sun and shadow.

And it is not darkness that unites us,

not the cold distance of space, but

the offering of water, each drop of rain,

each rivulet, each pulse, each vein.

O second moon, we, too, are made

of water, of vast and beckoning seas.

We, too, are made of wonders, of great

and ordinary loves, of small invisible worlds,

of a need to call out through the dark.