Mars For The Rest Of Us

Make Your Mark

There are plenty of ways to participate in exploration. here are our favorites, past and present

Not all participatory experiments go as planned. In an online contest, fans of Comedy Central’s ”The Colbert Report” overwhelmingly voted for ”Colbert” as the name of a new module on the International Space Station. Instead of bowing to the public, NASA chose the name ”Tranquility” instead. As a consolation, however, the agency renamed a piece of fitness equipment: the Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill, or COLBERT. The projects here have a bit more substance.


What it is: Data analysis. Look at snippets of HiRISE images from Mars and identify gullies, dust-devil tracks, lava flows, and more.

Why do it: The features are much smaller than what NASA scientists tend to look at—which means a greater chance to find something cool.

Skills required: None—example images show you how to identify objects.

Participants: 80 000

Team Frednet

What it is: Robotics. Open-source team competing for Google Lunar X Prize.

Why do it: It’s the only open-source team vying to win the US $30 million prize for a robotic moon mission.

Skills required: Communications, hardware, imaging, propulsion, or software expertise.

Participants: 524 forum users

Galaxy Zoo

What it is: Data analysis. Classify distant galaxies from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.

Why do it: The galaxy photos are stunning, and an active community makes it easy to share great finds, like merging galaxies.

Skills required: None—a training session teaches anyone how to do it.

Participants: 82 000

Open Luna Foundation

What it is: Robotics. Group aiming to return mankind to the moon through private enterprise.

Why do it: There’s something for everyone. Long-term goal is to send humans to the moon without NASA.

Skills required: Any—especially those of webmasters, writers, lawyers, engineers, and business managers.

Participants: A handful so far


What it is: Data analysis. Use a virtual microscope to look for tracks of interstellar dust in slices of aerogel.

Why do it: There’s a scoring system and a chance to be listed as a coauthor on a scientific paper.

Skills required: Good eyesight, patience.

Participants: 26 000


What it is: Programming. Open‑source projects to replace space and astronautics code, which normally costs millions of dollars for development and testing.

Why do it: The resulting code is free to NASA, the public, and private companies.

Skills required: Programming, aerospace expertise.

Participants: Presently limited to NASA alpha testers