NASA offers Americans a ride to an asteroid by microchip

WASHINGTON — If you’ve ever had dreams of becoming an astronaut but could never quite figure out how to get to space, a new NASA program might be able to help.

Well, at the very least, your name could get to space.

In 2016, a spacecraft carrying a special microchip will leave Earth on its way to the asteroid Bennu. This week, NASA invited the public to take part in the journey by signing up for the free “Messages to Bennu!” program online, which will allow participants’ names to be etched on that microchip.

Those who sign up also get a personalized certificate, signed by The Planetary Society’s Bill Nye, of “Bill Nye the Science Guy” fame.

According to NASA, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will spend two years at Bennu, looking for a sample to send back to Earth. This should help answer questions about the early solar system, as well as to predict the orbit patterns of other asteroids that may be close to Earth.

The Sample Return Capsule will be back by 2023. But the spacecraft itself, along with a second copy of the “Messages to Bennu!” chip, will spend much longer orbiting the sun.

For those who are less scientifically minded, this might be the perfect way to go to space and help the the effort to send humans to an asteroid by 2025.

If you want to join the journey, sign up here:

WTOP’s Jamie Slater contributed to this report. Follow @WTOP on Twitter.

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