NASA believes in getting the public excited about space, and they’re carrying on this tradition by recently announcing that space fans from around the world can travel to Jupiter with the Europa Clipper mission. Though, not literally, but by adding their names to a microchip for the “Message in a Bottle” campaign that will also contain “In Praise of Mystery: A Poem for Europa”, which is an original poem by U.S. Poet Laureate Ada Limón.
Participants are encouraged to visit the Europa Clipper “Message in a Bottle” website, where they’re invited to listen to an audio reading of the poem narrated by Limón, and by clicking her name at the bottom of the poem they can watch an animated video of the narrated reading.
Upon submitting their name and email address, the participant will receive an image of their name on a piece of string-tied, rolled paper in a corked glass bottle with Europa’s icy surface in the foreground and the massive Jupiter with a glistening Europa Clipper spacecraft in the background. Participants can then download the image for free directly or via the email they receive and share with their family and friends!
“‘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,” Dr. Nicola Fox, who is the associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington DC, said in the announcement. “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.”
Born in Sonoma, California, Ada Limón is an award-winning author of Mexican descent, with her most notable works being “The Carrying”, which was awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award, and “The Hurting Kind”, which was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize. In 2022, Limón was designated 24th Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry by Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden, making her the first Latina to be named a U.S. Poet Laureate, and subsequently reappointed to an additional two-year term in 2023. Limón had the privilege of visiting JPL in January 2023 to both see the Europa Clipper spacecraft up-close and learn more about its amazing mission to the icy world.
The Europa Clipper “Message in a Bottle” campaign builds off past NASA campaigns that involve sending names or other tokens of Earth on deep space missions. The most notable campaign is the Golden Record of the Voyager missions that was an elaborate effort encompassing a plethora of individuals, disciplines, and institutions.
In the end, two records were made with each containing 115 images, plus music, sounds, and greetings in several current and ancient languages of Earth with each record sitting on the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft in hopes of an extraterrestrial civilization finding them one day. In preparation for the records being found, the scientists include a cartridge and stylus and instructions on how the records could be played.
Most recently, the NASA Artemis I mission allowed participants to add their names to a flash drive that traveled with the mission around the Moon and back, and NASA’s Perseverance rover mission allowed participants to send their name on a microchip placed on the rover.
The overarching goal of all these campaigns, from the Golden Record to Europa Clipper’s “Message in a Bottle”, is to ignite the curiosity and imagination of space and astronomy fans from all over the world.
“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 Dr. Laurie Leshin, who is the director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California, which is spearheading the development of the Europa Clipper spacecraft. “Inspiration is riding along with every single name that will be making the journey to Europa.”
While Europa Clipper and its “Message in a Bottle” aren’t scheduled to launch until October 2024, its ongoing assembly at a JPL clean room can be watched live on YouTube. Once launched, the spacecraft is scheduled to perform two gravity assists—Mars in February 2025 and Earth in December 2026—before being hurled to Jupiter for its arrival in April 2030. Once there, it will perform 50 low-altitude flybys of Europa, coming as close as 25 kilometers (15 miles) of the surface in hopes of determining if Europa is capable of supporting life.
Will the “Message in a Bottle” bring Europa Clipper good tidings as it explores Europa, and what new science will Europa Clipper reveal about this mysterious, icy world? Only time will tell, and this is why we science!
As always, keep doing science & keep looking up!