NASA's Europa Clipper mission will carry a poem and millions of names to the ocean moon

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When NASA's Europa Clipper aims to launch on its highly anticipated mission to an icy moon in October, the spacecraft will carry a unique design engraved with names, poetry and artwork symbolizing humanity.

NASA has a long history of sending highly meaningful names and designs aboard missions, including the Voyager probes, the Perseverance rover, and the Parker Solar Probe. Now, it's Europa Clipper's turn to continue the tradition of conveying the design that demonstrates why humans are driven to explore the universe.

This latest mission is headed to Jupiter's moon Europa, one of several lunar ocean worlds considered the best places to look for extraterrestrial life. Scientists estimate that a global ocean containing more than twice as much water as Earth's oceans exists beneath Europe's thick ice crust. Earth's oceans contain about 321 million cubic miles (1.3 billion cubic kilometers) of water, according to a report National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The triangular panel, decorated on both sides and made of the rare metal tantalum, will seal the spacecraft's sensitive electronics inside a vault to protect them from Jupiter's harsh radiation.

Inside the vault is a silicon microchip imprinted with more than 2.6 million names submitted by the public. The microchip is at the center of the design, which shows a bottle floating within the orbit of Jupiter and its moons to symbolize a cosmic message in a bottle.

Technicians at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, used electron beams to draw names smaller than one-thousandth the width of a human hair.

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On the bottom of the bottle, the design features the original poem In Praise of Obscurity: An Ode to Europe Written by American poet Ada Lemon, engraved in her own handwriting, along with a portrait of the late planetary science pioneer Ron Greeleya professor at Arizona State University who played a crucial role in laying the foundation for the development of a mission to Europe.

The side of the plaque facing the interior of the vault also includes an inscription of the Drake equation, developed by the late astronomer Frank Drake from the University of California Santa Cruz in 1961 to estimate the possibility of finding advanced life beyond Earth. The equation remains an important part of astrobiological research as scientists search for evidence of life beyond our planet.

The outside of the painting bears waveforms, or visual representations of sound waves, depicting the word “water” in 103 languages ​​from around the world. At the heart of the spiral is a symbol that means “water” in American Sign Language. Audio of spoken languages ​​collected by linguists for NASA is available on its website.

Early NASA investigations e.g Pioneer 10 Voyager has continued to inspire artwork carried aboard other planetary science missions.

When NASA's twin Voyager probes set off to explore the solar system just weeks apart in 1977, they carried identical golden records designed as the first recorded interstellar message from the human race to possible intelligent life in the universe. The recordings contain audio and video files intended to capture the diversity of life and culture on Earth, including greetings in 59 human languages ​​and 115 life photographs.

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The Europa Clipper painting was designed with this spirit in mind to honor the potential connection between the Moon's oceans and Earth's oceans, according to NASA.

“The content and design of Europa Clipper’s vault panel is bathed in meaning,” Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, said in a statement. “The painting brings together the best that humanity has to offer across the universe – science, technology, education, art and mathematics. The message of connection through water, essential to all life as we know it, perfectly illustrates Earth’s connection to this mysterious ocean world we set out to explore.”

After a 1.6 billion-mile (2.6 billion km) journey to Europa, the Europa Clipper will spend the next few years flying by the ice-covered moon to see if the ocean underneath could support life. Europa Clipper is scheduled to make nearly 50 flybys of Europa, eventually reaching within 16 miles (25.7 kilometers) above its thick icy crust to survey almost the entirety of this moon.

The spacecraft will use cameras, spectrometers, ice-penetrating radar and a thermal instrument to understand how the Moon formed and whether life might exist on icy ocean worlds.

“We put as much thought and inspiration into the design of this panel, as we did on this mission itself,” Robert Pappalardo, a project scientist at JPL, said in a statement. “It's been a decades-long journey, and we can't wait to see what the Europa Clipper will show us in this aquatic world.”

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