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Send A Picture Of Whatever To Mars For $1

Eric Mennel

My dog. Hands down - that's the picture I'm sending to Mars. No questions asked.

There's a group of students at Duke who are trying to give me the opportunity for about $1. Time Capsule To Mars is a several-years-long project that is crowdfunding to cover much of the cost of sending a satellite time capsule to the Red Planet.

For now, they're accepting picture uploads. But they plan to expand all sorts of media.

"Imagine sending the first song to Mars," said Business Director Jon Tidd. "Or a painting you cherish. Or a quote from a family member."

It's a $25 million project, which by crowdfunding standards is high. But by interplanetary mission standards is pretty cheap, says Mission Director, Emily Briere.

The Duke students are teaming up with engineers and designers from MIT, Stanford, and UConn to build much of the capsule from the ground up. They're designing a new, ultra-light propulsion system for the machine. The whole thing will actually attach to a rocket already scheduled to launch a few years from now, and will pop off once it leaves Earth's atmosphere to make its way to Mars.

The images and videos won't be stored on your typical external harddrive (who knows if the USB port will even be a thing by the time the capsule is  [hopefully] rediscovered by future Mars explorers). The team is experimenting with new forms of data storage.

Credit Christine Daniloff / MIT
MIT reseachers' new thrusters could increase the number of CubeSats in orbit and expand the tasks they are able to complete.

"For example, micro-inscribing the images and text on tungsten sheets," said Tidd. "We've also looked at, and are really excited about quartz crystal technology, which has what looks to be an infinite lifetime and the ability to contain a massive amount -- many many terabytes of data."

Tidd couldn't give any examples of weird stuff people have asked to send. But something tells me if the Internet tries hard enough, things could get a little bonkers.

Eric Mennel prepares the afternoon/evening "drive time" newscast on WUNC. Previously, he was a producer for The Story with Dick Gordon. Eric has reported for All Things Considered, This American Life, 99% Invisible and other radio programs. He covered protests and security measures at the 2012 Republican National Convention for WUSF Tampa and NPR News. One day, he hopes to own a home with a wrap-around porch.
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