In October 2024, NASA will launch the Europa Clipper missions, which will travel to Jupiter to study its second closest moon: Europa. The satellite harbors a deep-water ocean under a thick icy crust; it is a world that might have the right conditions for life. And if you’d like to make it more personal, your own name can be etched on a chip that will be included in the spacecraft.
Alongside the names of all the humans that decide to take part in this initiative (called “Message in a Bottle”), there is a wonderful poem written by U.S. Poet Laureate Ada Limón and titled “In Praise of Mystery: A Poem for Europa.” You can read the poem in English or Spanish and even hear Limón recite it here – on the same page you can fill in a form to send your name.
“‘Message in a Bottle’ is the perfect convergence of science, art, and technology, and we are excited to share with the world the opportunity to be a part of Europa Clipper’s journey,” Nicola Fox, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, said in a statement. “I just love the thought that our names will be traveling across our Solar System aboard the radiation-tolerant spacecraft that seeks to unlock the secrets of Jupiter’s frozen moon.”
This is not the first initiative to send one’s name in deep space. Mars missions, Artemis I, and even older missions like Cassini, which launched in 1997, had this kind of public engagement initiative. For Cassini, the names were not etched in chips but the signature had to be faxed (at least back in Italy) and then included on a CD-Rom placed within the craft.
The goal of this approach is to connect us to the stars, to inspire us to think of how far we can get, even if in name only.
“Inspiration is what fueled the people who developed this flagship mission and who hand-crafted the largest spacecraft NASA has sent to explore the Solar System. It’s what drives humanity to ask the big questions that this mission will contribute to,” said Laurie Leshin, director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, which leads the development of Europa Clipper. “Inspiration is riding along with every single name that will be making the journey to Europa.”
The spacecraft will reach Jupiter in 2030 and conduct 50 orbits of Europa. Its suite of instruments will reveal new insights into the subsurface ocean, the ice crust, and the moon’s atmosphere.