Emily Briere,a senior majoring in mechanical engineering and the mission director for the Time Capsule to Mars (TC2M) project,and Jon Tidd,a graduate student and business team leader,announced Monday the launch of their online campaign to fund a $25 million satellite carrying a digital time capsule.
“We’re going to get a lot of selfies,a lot of weird selfies,” Briere said.
The team hopes to accomplish a series of firsts when its CubeSat the size of two cereal boxes launches in the next five years. It will be the first private mission to Mars,the first student-led interplanetary mission and the first interplanetary CubeSat mission. The satellite will move using new ion-electrospray propulsion that could cut down the Mars travel time to four months. NASA’s rovers took about eight months to reach Earth’s next-door planetary neighbor.
The team hopes the project will be the largest crowdfunded venture in history. For 99 cents,anyone can upload a 10 MB digital image to put on a quartz crystal storage device designed to survive the harsh Martian climate. In the next few months,people will also be able to purchase space for video,audio and text. With all the options,Tidd said he’s not sure what people will submit.
“It’s incredible what people can create,and so we didn’t want to constrain the creativity of people,” Tidd said. “So,I’m not sure what to expect. I’m just sure it’ll be creative and amazing.”
Tidd said companies will also sponsor uploads for people in developing countries and create Mars ambassadors to travel and take pictures to ensure the time capsule reflects a global presence.
Briere and Tidd work with industry professionals and teams of students from MIT,Stanford and the University of Connecticut to design,develop and fund the capsule. In May,TC2M became a project of Explore Mars,a non-profit created with a goal of sending people to Mars within the next two decades.
One of these student groups worked with Paulo Lozano,the director of MIT’s Space Propulsion Lab,to design the satellite. Lozano said that with advances in technology and greater interest in space exploration,students now have the ability to create something to put into space before they graduate.
“Space is one of those things that every generation just dreams about,and I don’t think ours is any different from the previous generation,” Lozano said. “I would definitely say they have more tooth to actually pursue this dream.”
TC2M also provides an educational opportunity for K-12 classrooms,allowing students to upload and track their content in the hopes that it will encourage interest in science,technology,engineering and mathematics.
Charlie Precourt, a former astronaut who flew on four Space Shuttle missions and is general manager of ATK,a defense and aerospace contractor,said this project was an example of his Apollo-era generation handing the science of space exploration off to the next. On a personal note,he said he planned to participate by including pictures of his children and grandchildren on the mission.
“The inspiration in space exploration continues to raise the bar for the entire country,” Precourt said. “And,it’s so inspiring for me to see what I appreciated,and was able to enjoy as a kid growing up,is now coming again in the next generation.”
Reach Reporter Kate Winkle at [email protected] or 202-326-9865. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.