Volunteers have been busy sorting, counting and scanning the many thousands of postcards and letters sent in by citizens who want to fly their signatures to Saturn on a CD-ROM aboard NASA's Cassini spacecraft, scheduled for launch in late 1997.
Since the invitation was made public in February, many thousands of people worldwide have eagerly sent in their signatures to the Cassini program office at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, CA, for a chance to send their names into space. Recently, the program office has received an average of 25,000 to 40,000 signatures each week. About 250,000 signatures have been received from all 50 U.S. states and many nations.
"I am overwhelmed by the response we are getting to announcements of our program to 'send your name to Saturn,'" said Suzanne Barber, manager of the Cassini administration office. "We've also gotten wonderful messages expressing people's excitement about being part of this adventure. The notes come from people of all ages and backgrounds, from school children to astronomers working at observatories around the world."
Incoming mail to the signature project is picked up from JPL by volunteer members of the Planetary Society, a Pasadena-based non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of the planetary sciences. Once sorted, counted and scanned, the signatures will be digitized and placed on a CD-ROM or digital video disc (DVD) and carried aboard Cassini. The spacecraft will arrive at Saturn in July 2004 after a nearly seven-year voyage from Earth.
Several groups have gathered hundreds of signatures at a time, including teachers eager to give their students a chance to send their names beyond Earth's orbit and into space.
"The level of enthusiasm for the Cassini signature CD-ROM effort is the greatest we've ever seen for any previous programs," said Dave Hagie, a volunteer at The Planetary Society. "We're getting boxes of manila envelopes full of signatures from school kids." So far, volunteers have counted more than 200,000 signatures from around the world, with the most having been received from California.
Included among the postcards have been many inspirational messages. "This may be my only chance to make it into space," read one card, and another contained the signatures of a young girl who had recently died, her father having sent in the signatures posthumously.
Postcards or letter-size sheets with multiple signatures can be sent to: Cassini Program, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA 91109. Confirmations of receipt will be sent if a self-addressed, stamped envelope is sent along with the signatures. Notes may be sent along with the signatures, but only the signatures will be scanned. E-mail submissions will not be accepted, and the Cassini program will continue to accept signatures until January 1, 1997, unless the CD-ROM storage capacity is exhausted sooner.
Cassini, scheduled for launch on October 6, 1997, is a joint mission of NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Italian Space Agency. It will send an atmospheric probe called Huygens to the surface of Saturn's moon Titan. The Cassini spacecraft will orbit Saturn for four years, gathering data on Saturn, its rings, magnetic environment, and moons.
The Cassini home page at http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/cassini provides additional information about the Saturn mission.
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