As India celebrated its success in testing an unmanned space crew module on Thursday, over 1.7 lakh Indians had another reason to be happy as a similar National Aeronautics and Space Administration spacecraft carrying a microchip containing their names was brought back safely to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, United States, on the same day after a space odyssey.
According to NASA, a total of 1,78,144 space enthusiasts from India had their names recorded on the dime-sized microchip on board NASA's unmanned Orion crew module spacecraft, which was launched into space on December 4.
India stood second in the number of people sending their names after the US, which topped the list with 4,63,669 entries. United Kingdom (1,12,073), Mexico (51,505) and The Philippines (39,991) were in the top five.
A total of 13,79,961 names from 230 countries across the world were recorded in the chip. After travelling more than 5,700 km above earth, the exploration vehicle, built to take humans into space, plummeted through the atmosphere and splashed down in the Pacific Ocean before completing the final leg of its journey by land on December 18, arriving home at KennedySpaceCenter in Florida, the American space agency said in a release.
The NASA had in October this year invited the public to send their names on the microchip to destinations beyond low-Earth orbit, including Mars.
The names on the microchip began their first journey during the maiden test flight of Orion, the NASA's deep space exploration capsule.
After launch, the spacecraft went on a 4.5 hour two-orbit mission around the earth testing Orion's systems and re-entered into the earth's atmosphere at a speed of 32,186.88 kmph bearing about 2204.44 deg Celsius, before it splashed down in the Pacific Ocean.
But the journey for these names didn't end there, the NASA assures, "After returning to Earth, the names will fly on future NASA exploration flights and missions to Mars. With each flight, selected individuals will accrue more miles as members of a global space-faring society."
"The NASA is pushing the boundaries of exploration and working hard to send people to Mars in the future," said Mark Geyer, Orion Program manager.
"When we set foot on the Red Planet, we'll be exploring for all of humanity. Flying these names will enable people to be part of our journey."
Space enthusiasts can submit names to be included on future test flights and NASA missions to Mars through http://mars.nasa.gov/participate/
Image: The Delta IV Heavy rocket with the Orion spacecraft lifts off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Photograph: Mike Brown/Reuters