As people watch news coverage of rocket launches and missions into space, many dream of traveling into space themselves. However, the cost of launches and the qualifications required to become an astronaut put space out of reach for most members of the general public. As a consequence, space seems unimaginably distant; and, the idea of public participation in space seems highly unlikely. However, the dream of participating in space remains; and, a number of projects have allowed space enthusiasts to make personal connections with space.
This web page lists a number of projects by NASA and other organizations which allow people to symbolically send "little pieces of themselves" into space. The projects listed on this page provide people with opportunities to participate in space for free.
Note: Projects marked with asterisks (*) are no longer open or available to the public.
During the late 1990's, NASA provided the public with the opportunity to send their signatures on board the Cassini spacecraft to Saturn. People who were interested could write their signatures on postcards and mail them to the Cassini program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The signatures were added to a DVD-ROM which was placed on board the Cassini spacecraft. People who wished to receive a confirmations that their signatures had been placed onto the DVD-ROM could obtain them by mailing the signature cards along with a self-addressed stamped envelopes. NASA continued to accept signatures until January 1, 1997 or until the DVD-ROM was full. The disc contained 616,420 signatures from 81 nations when the DVD was placed on board the Cassini spacecraft.
KEO is a proposed French satellite which will serve as a passive orbiting time-capsule. The satellite's purpose is to carry a DVD-ROM containing messages from all of the living people on Earth. Each person is allowed to use the KEO website to send a single free message (containing no more than 6000 characters) to his or her descendants. People without Internet access can also send messages by regular snail mail to Paris, France. The KEO organizers also encourage every person to collect messages from children, senior citizens, and illiterate people for inclusion on the KEO DVD-ROM in order to represent every culture and demographic on Earth. All of the uncensored messages will be carried by the KEO satellite on a glass DVD-ROM disk. KEO will also carry a "Contemporary Library of Alexandria," containing cultural information about the people of Earth in the 21st century. The unpowered KEO satellite will carried as a "secondary passenger" on board an Ariane 5 rocket to an Earth orbit with an altitude of approximately 1800 kilometers. Approximately 50000 years after launch, the KEO satellite will re-enter Earth's atmosphere and return to Earth, where descendants will be able to recover the glass DVD-ROM. KEO will not contain a DVD disk reader but will contain diagrams with simple symbols to describe how to construct a DVD reader to allow to descendants to read the DVD-ROM disk's contents.
Each particpating class of elementary or high school students received a poster. The students signed the poster on Space Day, which was the first Friday in May. The poster with the signatures was later scanned digitally at Lockheed Martin; and, the scanned signatures then flew on a space shuttle mission. After the mission, the poster with the signatures was returned to the students along with a photo of the mission's flight crew as well as a certificate to confirm that the signatures had flown on that particular space shuttle mission. A school was eligible to participate once every six years.
Digitally-scanned student signatures are no longer flying on space shuttle missions; since, the space shuttle program was retired in 2011.
Nearly four million names were submitted to NASA to be included on a DVD. The "Send Your Name to Mars" DVD was attached to the Spirit rover, which later landed on the surface of Mars. The DVD has a Lego Astrobot mini figure at its center as well as magnets at its outer edges. The magnets collect dust for student analysis.
NASA offered the public the opportunity to have their names placed into orbit around the moon. Names submitted to the website were stored in a database which was later stored on a microchip. The microchip was integrated into the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft. NASA stopped accepting submissions for names on June 27, 2008.
The Kepler Space Telescope was launched with a DVD attached to the side. The DVD included the names of participants, the state or nation in which they reside, and a statement (containing no more than 500 characters) about why the Kepler mission is important. The deadline for the submissions was November 1, 2008. The Name in Space DVD was attached to the exterior of the spacecraft in November of 2008; and, a copy of the DVD was given to the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.
This program allowed members of the general public to have digital copies of their photographs and names flown on the last three space shuttle missions (STS-133, STS-134, and STS-135). The photographs were uploaded to NASA's Face in Space website, where the names were also entered. After the launch of one of the last three space shuttle mission, people who sent names and photographs to be carried by that particular mission could visit NASA's Face in Space website to print out commemorative flight certificates which were signed by the Mission Commander.
The last three space shuttle missions were completed; so, Face in Space is no longer open.
In 2012, the National Geographic Channel's television program, "Chasing UFO's," transmitted a one-time METI signal from Arecibo Observatory in response to the unexplained 72-second long "Wow! Signal received from space (which was received on August 15, 1977). The program had invited its viewers to send "Tweets" (via Twitter) which were to be included in the signal. More that twenty-thousand "Tweets" as well as videos from celebrities were sent when the WOW! Reply signal was transmitted on August 15, 2012. To increase the odds that the recipients would decode the videos and tweets, each message had an attached repeating-sequence header which would let the recipients know that the messages were sent intentionally by intelligent beings.
NASA's Curiosity Mars rover carried two 23-millimeter-wide microchips, which were attached to the rover's back or deck. A total of 1,246,445 names from people in 246 countries were etched onto these microchips. Each name was submitted through JPL's website; and, each person who submitted a name to be included on one of the chips were able to print out a Certificate of Participation from the website. A microscopic reproduction of Leonardo daVinci's codex on bird flight was also attached to the chips; and, a reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci's self-portrait was also sent on the Curiosity rover.
Lone Signal is a project which uses the Jamesberg Earth Station in Carmel Valley, California to transmit a continuous METI signal to a target star system which is listed in the Catalog of Nearby Habitable Systems. The first component of the signal is the hailing message, which contains information about the Earth and Solar System; and, the message also includes information on basic principles of physics to serve as a reference to assist an extraterrestrial civilzation's efforts to decipher the message. The second component of the signal (which is embedded in the first component) contains messages from people from around the world, written in the languages of those people. Lone Signal allows anyone with Internet access to compose and transmit one free message consisting of 144 characters.
Approximate 100,000 names from around the world were submitted for inclusion on a DVD which will eventually be carried to Mars aboard NASA's MAVEN spacecraft. Names were submitted via the MAVEN website, which allowed people to print out a certificate which confirmed that their names were included on the DVD. The deadline for submitting names was September 10, 2013; although, the website was still accepting submissions the following day.
Haikus and student art were also submitted to the MAVEN website as part of a contest and were selected by public online votes. The student art contest closed on April 8, 2013; and, the winners of the public vote were announced on May 20, 2013. The (haiku) message activity closed on July 1, 2013; and, the winners of the public vote was announced on August 8, 2013. In special recognition, digitally-scanned copies of all 377 student art submissions were included as files on the DVD. 12,530 valid haiku entries were also received; and, all haikus receiving two or more votes were included on the DVD.