UPDATED 17:43 EDT / JULY 07 2014

The next mission to Mars will be funded by selfies

mars-wikimedia-imageThe first generation of space exploration had us glued to our TV screens watching the fruits of billions of dollars in government investment and the work of some of the world’s finest scientific minds.

The second generation may be funded by selfies.

To fund a spaceship to Mars the  Time Capsule to Mars (TC2M) mission is conducting a $25 million crowdfunding campaign and that’s where the selfies come in. The student-led science and space project intends to connect all of humanity with this endeavor to the red planet for a small fee.

The crowdfunding will take place through selling 99 cent “tickets” for media (photos, text, video or audio clips) to be stored in the time capsule. The expectation is that once the time capsule and its memorable cargo land on Mars the included selfies will one day be decoded by future Martian colonists.

Anyone can join in and send their own digital memento on the TC2M website. The size limit is currently 5MB for any image, text file, audio or video clip. Submissions are currently open but the TC2M project coordinators might restrict the flow if the site gets swamped early on. However, crowdfunding is expected to continue right up until the 2017 launch so everyone will get a chance to join in.

“We hope that this mission will be the largest crowdfunded effort in history,” mission commander Emily Briere, a senior at Duke University, said at a press conference about the project (video).

This student-led venture brings together teams from MIT, Duke University, Stanford University, and the University of Connecticut. The students are working with Explore Mars, a Boston-based nonprofit that promotes Mars exploration, and also have support from NASA, Lockheed Martin, and Boeing.

The project has already raised half of a million in funds between corporate investment and donations to seed the project. The crowdfunding effort opened its doors on Monday, June 23rd and it’s still a bit too early to tell if the crowdfunding will be a success.

The price tag on the mission, $25 million, covers everything from planning, design, to launch. In the initial stages, planners thought about going entirely with commercial funding but they feared that it would shift the priorities of the project away from a human collaborative effort and bend it too much to corporate interests.

A mission to Mars for all humanity

Speaking to SiliconANGLE, Mission Commander Briere emphasized that one of the major tenets of the project is creating a mission for all humanity.

“We wanted to create this concept that when you buy something there’s more value to it,” she said, referring to buying a piece of the time capsule to send a memento to Mars. Going with funding from major corporations only would have left out the average everyday person. She added, “This is truly a mission funded by humanity and part of humanity.”

Before choosing to go with the current crowdfunding method, Briere says that organizers researched numerous crowdfunding platforms. Kickstarter and Indigogo had come up but the platforms’ emphasis on short-term funding and Kickstarter’s sink-or-swim model just didn’t fit the project’s needs. However, the mission commander does not dismiss the possibility of a Kickstarter or Indigogo campaign in the future.

Cutting-edge technology, up, up and away

What does a $25 million price tag get you? A lot of experimental, cutting-edge technology planned and designed by students to pioneer the next state of space travel for humanity. In this case, the time capsule will be a forerunner for future colonization of Mars.

The TC2M mission intends use of inexpensive space probes called CubeSats (a probe 10 cm to a side and weighing around 1 kg) and will make use of an experimental thruster using Ion-ElectroSpray Propulsion. It works by accelerating heavy charged particles (ions) through a magnetic field to provide the force necessary for very slight acceleration. While small, the aggregate force over time leads to tremendous speed without the need for giant tanks of propellant.

Another team will work on an inflatable antenna that will be deployed once the CubeSats are underway so that ground control can maintain communication. The antenna will be a compact size at launch, but expand to something large enough to catch radio waves from Earth.

Yet another team is working on protocols for a Delay Tolerant Networking for deep-space Internet and communications. Briere says that the team expects to be in constant contact with the probe as it leaves Earth and travels to Mars, to keep it on target and receive telemetry. But constant contact means something slightly different when the interstellar distance between Earth and Mars could mean communications round trip times of more than 14 minutes.

These are only a few of the efforts being put into the TC2M mission, more are noted on the website.

By combining the crowdfunding efforts—compiled with the dreams and expectations of everyone who pitches in—and the collaborative effort of multiple teams all working towards a goal of expanding the human understanding of space and technology the Time Capsule project is bringing Mars just a little bit closer.

photo credit: Public domain, NASA, from Wikipedia Commons.

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