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NASA has a frequent flyer program that's out of this world - literally. People who sign up to send their names to Mars on the next rover mission will earn 313,586,649 award miles from the space agency. NPR science correspondent Joe Palca has details.
JOE PALCA, BYLINE: It's all part of a public engagement campaign to get people interested in the Mars 2020 mission, a rover mission that will look for signs of ancient life on Mars. The names will be microscopic, etched into a silicon chip that will ride along with the rover. More than a million people signed up in the first 24 hours.
EMILY LAKDAWALLA: You know, it's remarkable how many people just love to send their names to other destinations.
PALCA: That's Emily Lakdawalla with The Planetary Society. She says NASA has sent names on a number of its space missions. So has the Japanese space agency.
LAKDAWALLA: There's another spacecraft named Hayabusa2 that carried names that were engraved on a little baseball-sized target marker that they've dropped on the surface of an asteroid. So there are names all over the solar system right now. And it's a way that people feel they can participate in space exploration.
PALCA: Lakdawalla says, yes, awarding people with frequent flyer miles for sending their names to Mars is a gimmick.
LAKDAWALLA: But it's a gimmick that engages people and gets people to think about the distances between planets. It's just one more hook to take something that's kind of cute and give a little spoon-feed of education along with it.
PALCA: Mars 2020 is scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral next July. And if all goes well, it will land on a spot on Mars called Jezero crater in February 2021. Joe Palca, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.