Those who cannot afford the million-dollar price tag attached to space tourism will be happy to learn that at least their names--and their logos--will be able to travel into space for a much smaller fee, thanks to a group of MIT students working on the design of a small research spacecraft.
For the past five years, students from MIT's Mars Gravity Biosatellite Program and from around the world have worked together to create a satellite design that, when built, will be able to simulate a trip to Mars by sending mice into orbit around the Earth.
The biosatellite group will study how Martian gravity--about one-third that of Earth--will affect the mammalian body. They hope their work will pave the way for future manned missions to Mars.
The program is the largest known student-led spacecraft design program, with more than 450 student participants from universities around the world.
Thus far, the program has received funding from partner universities, NASA and many corporations. But the program needs a lot of money to continue, especially if the students want to meet their goal of launching from Earth in 2010. The satellite will remain in orbit for five weeks.
"Most of it is funding dependent," said Rosamund Combs-Bachmann, assistant program coordinator for the project. The students need to raise an estimated $30 million to design, implement, launch and operate the mission.
To that end, the students from MIT and the Georgia Institute of Technology have designed a unique funding scheme that will allow companies and individuals to sponsor square centimeter sections of the spacecraft that will be marked with their logo or name. They have dubbed their fund-raiser "Your Name into Space" (YNIS).
The entry price is just $35 for one square centimeter of space, said Combs-Bachmann. There will be at least 100,000 square centimeters of space, but in order to make the name legible, donors should consider at least four, she said.
The logos and names will be printed on aluminum panels with an ink jet printer, said Combs-Bachmann, who called YNIS "a great way to get visibility and support student research."
As for who might fund such a project, Combs-Bachmann said she expects YNIS to appeal to a wide range, including corporations and "individuals who are interested in space exploration or student research."
The biosatellite group is also open to the idea of one donor who would be willing to pay for all 100,000 square centimeters.
Donors who choose a location on the outside of the spacecraft for their logos will receive photographs of their "name" from space. Donors who choose a location inside the return vehicle will receive their very own piece of the spacecraft hardware after the mission.
"It is great way not only to raise money, but also to get people excited about space exploration," said Combs-Bachmann.