NASA’s newest venture around Mars, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission (MAVEN), will launch in November. It will carry the usual spectrometers and magnetometers, but it also will have cargo of a more literary sort: poetry, stored on a DVD and authored by you (if you’re lucky).
The Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado Boulder, which coordinates the “Going to Mars” campaign for MAVEN, and NASA are inviting the public to submit their names and the messages they would like to send to the Red Planet. The messages, however, must be in the classic three-line, five-seven-five syllable haiku poetry form. After all, everyone knows that martians much prefer haiku to the Petrarchan sonnet, which is too long for their attention spans.
So if you have something you would like to say to Mars, distill it down to its essential 17 syllables, come up with some clever enjambments, and submit it at http://lasp.colorado.edu/maven/goingtomars/send-your-name/. All submitters’ names will be burned onto the DVD, but only the three winners’ poems will make the long and digitally encoded trip across the solar system.
You can enter your haiku until July 1. From July 15–July 29, anyone with an internet connection can vote for their favorite poems. On August 8, “Going to Mars” will announce the three winners.
Along with carrying human literary tradition, MAVEN will study Mars’ atmosphere to determine how it is changing right now (specifically, how it has lost its volatile elements like carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and water); how it has changed over time; and how that loss changed the planet’s climate, wateriness, and habitability.
In other words, MAVEN is asking:
Oh, planet so stark,
were you always this dusty?
Where is your N2?