LISTED BELOW are past and present unmanned deep space missions that were launched by NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) since 1996. Onboard these robotic spacecraft are or were compact discs, microchips or engraved aluminum plates bearing the names of up to a million people...including that of Yours Truly. The majority of these names were submitted via the Internet (the exceptions being for Mars Pathfinder* and Cassini**) as part of public relation efforts by NASA and JAXA to get people interested in these missions. In my case, these PR campaigns worked quite well.
*-The names onboard Pathfinder were originally submitted for Russia's Mars '96 mission, which failed during launch on November 16, 1996. Like Cassini below, signatures were sent in via snail mail. Also like Cassini, certificates were not made available to confirm that my name is indeed onboard the Pathfinder lander. Since I know for sure that I submitted my name for Mars '96, I would have to assume that it was also on the list of names provided by The Planetary Society that eventually made its way to the Martian surface on America's Independence Day in 1997.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / Space Science Institute / G. Ugarkovic
Launch: October 15, 1997
Arrival: July 1, 2004
Number of signatures on DVD: 616,400
**-Names were submitted for the Cassini mission by having them written on postcards and then being mailed to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California (where the spacecraft was built). The names were then scanned onto a computer to be burned onto a DVD. Like Mars Pathfinder above, no certificate was provided to confirm that a person's name is indeed onboard Cassini. In my case, I would just have to assume that it is.
Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute
Launch: January 19, 2006
Destination: En route to dwarf planet Pluto / Kuiper Belt region
Number of names on CD: 434,738
***-I'm cheating with this one. I randomly found the certificate below through the name database on New Horizons' mission website. I don't know who would be cautious (or paranoid) enough to merely provide the initial of their first name and what might probably be a fragment of their last name in this submission, but seeing as how "Par" IS my last name, I'll claim this certificate as my own. Despite the fact the "Send Your Name to Pluto" campaign lasted from February to September of 2005, I didn't find out about this opportunity till about 2 weeks after the deadline came and went. The first names of my father, oldest brother AND sister start with an "R" as well...so it's nice to know that they're also heading towards Pluto and beyond!
Launch: May 21, 2010 - JST (in tandem with IKAROS)
Destination: En route to Venus
****-Due to a problem with the spacecraft's propulsion system, Akatsuki failed to enter orbit around Venus during its targeted arrival day on December 7, 2010 (JST). The next opportunity for Akatsuki to fly near Venus will be in November of 2015. To protect the spacecraft from wear and tear as it orbits around the Sun, JAXA is placing Akatsuki in a hibernation state during this protracted cruise in deep space.
Number of names and messages on aluminum plates: 260,214