Poets, take note: NASA is looking for a few good haiku to send to the Red Planet aboard its MAVEN orbiter this fall.
If you're not the literary sort, don't worry: You can still submit your name to be included on a DVD that will be attached to the spacecraft. MAVEN is scheduled for launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida sometime after Nov. 18. In 2014, it'll go into Martian orbit to study changes in the planet's atmosphere over the course of at least one Earth year. Mission cost is $670 million. MAVEN is short for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN.
Send-a-name opportunities come around at least once every year or so, and they tend to be quite popular with the general public. More than 1.2 million names were collected for the Mars Science Laboratory mission: Those names were etched onto two microchips, each the size of a dime, and then the chips were placed in a protected corner of the Curiosity rover.
This time around, you can submit names via the MAVEN mission's "Going to Mars" website. All the names will be digitized and encoded onto a DVD that will be put on the spacecraft. You can also submit a personal message in the form of a haiku — a traditional form of three-line Japanese verse that has five syllables for the first line, seven syllables for the second line, and five syllables for the third line.
The deadline for submissions is July 1. An online public vote will be conducted beginning July 15 to select the top three haiku poems. Those three poems will be included on the spacecraft as well, and will be prominently displayed on the MAVEN website. Check the "Going to Mars" instructions to get the details and to register your name and message.
"The Going to Mars campaign offers people worldwide a way to make a personal connection to space, space exploration, and science in general, and share in our excitement about the MAVEN mission," Stephanie Renfrow, lead for the MAVEN Education and Public Outreach program at the University of Colorado's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, said in a NASA news release announcing the campaign. To put it another way:
blends science and poetry,
blends heaven and earth.
More about future space missions:
Alan Boyle is NBCNews.com's science editor (and was editor of his college's literary magazine more than three decades ago). Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the log's Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter and adding the Cosmic Log page to your Google+ presence. To keep up with Cosmic Log as well as NBCNews.com's other stories about science and space, sign up for the Tech & Science newsletter, delivered to your email in-box every weekday. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.