WINAMAC — When the Mars “Curiosity” Rover touched down on the red planet early Monday, so did the names of 43 Winamac Boy Scouts and troop leaders.
As part of their science and space-themed curriculum, Boy Scout Troop 229 in Winamac submitted their names to NASA in 2009 to be carried on a microchip on the back of the Curiosity. The NASA rover successfully landed this week after 8 1/2 months of travel and is intended to search for evidence of signs of life on the planet.
The rover carries the names of 529,386 people in the United States, including 8,526 in Indiana, according to NASA’s website.
Rick Conn, a former leader for the troop, said he became aware of the possibility of submitting names to NASA through his former career with the space program. Conn had been working for the space program for about 30 years, starting with launching communication satellites for the military and moving to work for Lockheed Martin, a security and aerospace company, among other jobs.
When he found out about the opportunity, Conn had the boys and troop leaders submit their names to NASA online. In turn, each received a certificate telling them they were to become part of history.
“That was just one of many different NASA programs we were aware of,” Conn said. “It was easy to do.”
The names were later digitized and placed onto a microchip on the back of the rover.
Years later, Conn excitedly watched as the rover landed on the red planet with the troop’s names aboard.
“It was one thing to hear we sent the probe,” Conn said. “It was another to have your name on Mars.”
Conn has been following the progress of the rover through NASA’s daily briefings and photos. He said he shares the photos and videos with the Boy Scouts of the 2009 troop.
The names will not be used in the mission or taken off the chip, Conn said, but it was more a matter of going to Mars with the spacecraft.
In addition to the boys and troop leaders’ names, Conn said he also sneaked in the name of his 96-year-old mother. That’s what he brings up when he talks to people about the rover, he said.
“That always brings a grin,” Conn said.
Though the rover had yet to take off when the names were submitted, Conn said the troop was aware of the significance, as he had led them through a presentation outlining the rover’s mission and possible touch down locations.
When he was troop leader, Conn would also teach the boys about science and space throughout the year.
Pulaski Circuit Court Judge Michael Shurn, a current troop leader who submitted his name in 2009, said he also had been tracking the rover’s progress.
“It’s pretty exciting to know that we’re up there,” Shurn said.
Now, as the rover looks for signs of life, Conn will be watching its progress.
“I’m interested now in seeing what it will discover,” he said.
• Caitlin Huston is a staff reporter of the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at 574-732-5148 or firstname.lastname@example.org.