If it has always been your fantasy to send your physical likeness out into the cosmos, now is your time! To commemorate the final two Shuttle missions, NASA has created a bonkers “Face in Space” initiative, which allows you to upload a picture of yourself to send to the International Space Station. What this actually entails, I imagine, is a burned data DVD in an astronaut’s backpack — nominal space travel if I’ve ever heard of it.
It’s fun, and my face is already destined to launch on September 16th on STS-133; but, seriously, what is this about? Rousing public interest in the space program has been an upward battle in the post-Apollo era; admittedly, it’s hard to justify billions of tax dollars towards the ineffable and uncertain goals of space exploration. This isn’t the first time NASA has sent messages from Earth into space: to mention just a few, the Phoenix lander brought personal messages to the North Pole of Mars, Cassini sent some 616,400 signatures to Saturn, and the Shuttles have ferried 5.6 million schoolkids’ signatures back and forth over the years. And, while the signatures always seemed strangely formal to me, this face thing…is the public so disinterested at this point that the only way to engender its interest is to offer to send peoples’ faces out there? The implied assumption here is that people will care about the last two Shuttle missions if they’re personally invested in them in some fundamentally narcissistic way: “you know, this program has been a bust up until now, but wait till you see how my face changes things!” Or, “the aliens haven’t made contact with us yet because they didn’t know how good looking we all are!” By exploiting our colonial, self-important, human-chauvinistic impulses in the name of PR, isn’t NASA encouraging the exact wrong reasons to be interested in space?
What do I know? I’m guilty too; I practically scrambled to my laptop when I heard the call. Vain space enthusiasts, upload your face here, and after launch day, you can print out a “flight certificate” signed by the mission commander.