In 2024, a new spacecraft will hurtle toward Jupiter in a bid to learn whether its moon Europa is capable of supporting life. The craft will carry more than high-tech sensors: It also will bear a poem and hundreds of thousands of human names. Yours could be one of them.
NASA is asking people to submit their names ahead of the mission’s October 2024 launch. Those submitted by the end of 2023 will go into space on the Europa Clipper spacecraft, which should enter Jupiter’s orbit in 2030.
Europa is one of 95 officially recognized Jovian moons. It has been singled out for the mission because it may possess the energy source, liquid water and chemicals that make life possible.
Although its surface is covered in ice, it’s thought to host a vast liquid ocean below, and chemical activity beneath the water could produce the conditions needed to sustain living organisms. Although sunlight cannot reach beneath Europa’s ice, scientists think radiation from Jupiter could provide a viable energy source instead.
NASA has a history of sending meaningful messages and artworks into space on the chance an extraterrestrial might find them. The most famous are the “golden” phonograph records that went up with the Voyager spacecraft in the 1970s. The discs included images, sounds, music and spoken greetings in 55 languages.
“The launching of this bottle into the cosmic ocean says something very hopeful about life on this planet,” astronomer Carl Sagan, who chaired the committee that assembled the discs’ content, said at the time.
NASA is calling its current initiative a “message in a bottle” – one with a similarly hopeful message. This time, the spacecraft will carry a poem by U.S. Poet Laureate Ada Limón. “In Praise of Mystery: A Poem for Europa” meditates on the wonder of nature and the curiosity that unites humans as they look toward “small invisible worlds.”
According to the agency’s website, about 700,000 names have been submitted so far. They’ll eventually be stenciled onto a dime-sized microchip in microscopic writing, then attached to a metal plate engraved with the poem that will accompany the craft.
Want to be part of the journey? NASA is accepting names until 11:59 p.m. Eastern time on Dec. 31. To participate, visit Go.NASA.gov/MessageInABottle.