On November 28, 1964, NASA sent Mariner 4, a robotic probe, to Mars. After a long trek, lasting three-quarters of a year, when it reached its orbit, it performed a successful flyby, took a good many grainy shots of it, and beamed them back home.
These were the first photographs of another planet ever to be sent from deep space. They changed our notion of our planetary neighbor. We saw Mars for what it was: an arid, dusty, rufous, wilderness, where there was no life, let alone well-engineered cities.
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Mariner 4 mission, we’re sending a cacophony of greetings to Mars or a “societal selfie,” as Alan Stern, the chief executive officer of Uwingu, put it in a statement.
“Beam Me to Mars,” a project that’s a one-way planetary postal service, of sorts, will allow anyone, anywhere, on Earth to send postcards of a kind, to the Red Planet. They will fly out on November 28, 2014.
You can send just words or pictures or a combination of the two. And you can send as many as you like. But they’re not free. Pricing begins at $5 and goes up to $100.
The initiative is the brainchild of Uwingu (Swahili for “sky”), a private space firm, which aims to encourage citizen participation in space exploration.
The transmissions will rush away at the speed of light, from antennas in Hawaii, Alaska, and Australia, owned and run by Universal Space Network, a company that provides communication infrastructure for spacecraft in orbit.
15 minutes later, they’ll arrive at Mars. Some will also spread around it, and fly out of our solar system into interstellar space. Others will bounce off it, and come back to us.
The activity is akin to sending an e-mail to someone you never hear back from, for there’s no one on Mars to receive it. But as you don’t get a note, telling you that your message failed to be delivered, you can rest assured that it reached safely. There’s always the possibility that one day, you may hear back, from someone, somewhere.
The very day the messages leave our planet, they’ll also be hand-delivered to the U.S. Congress, NASA, and the United Nations.
Mark your calendars. The messages must be submitted to the Uwingu website by November 5, 2014.