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Feb 28, 2014 11:31 AM EST

NASA Scientist Sells Naming Rights To Mars Craters As A Second Job; Name Yours For As Little As $5

Paying $5 or more (depending on the size) to name a crater on Mars, which has around 500,000 of them, sounds like a scam, but it's actually a clever play to raise money and awareness for a mapping project that was going to happen anyway. Why not also raise a few million bucks?

Uwingu, the company planning to map Mars' many craters, hopes to raise $10 million from space nerds looking for notoriety outside this world, according to Fox. The money will fund those who desire a career in space but perhaps aren't NASA or NSF (National Space Foundation) material.

"We're developing this grant fund - the Uwingu fund - for people who've been hit by sequestration," Uwingo CEO Alan Stern, a former NASA man himself who also currently manages the agency's New Horizons mission to Pluto, told "There's nothing like it right now. They have no place to go; it's either NASA, NSF [the National Science Foundation] or you're out of luck."

It helps that such a project will be backed by a CEO as credentialed as Stern and a company that's done this type of thing before rather than some startup sensing an unexplored market. Plus, it's for a good cause.

"This is the first people's map of Mars, where anybody can play," Stern said "It's a very social thing."

Uwingo's only snafu dates back to a similar space entity for which they once sold naming rights: exoplanets. Their pitch was criticized by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), the authority on outer space naming, for misleading buyers into believing they were purchasing officially recognized titles. Uwingo contended that they clearly stated the names would function in more of a "peoples-choice" capacity with a chance that they could stick like "the Milky Way galaxy," which isn't IAU-authorized, Fox reported.

Mars already has 15,000 features, including some craters, named under IAU-approval. Those have been noted and will be added to Uwingo's map, but the company won't seek further authorization from the union, according to Fox.

When I first heard the gist of Stern's idea, I figured people would mostly choose their own names, names of family members, or possibly even a nickname, but the CEO, who's got much more experience than I in this type of thing, seems to think buyers will be more creative.

"It's like taking a picture of ourselves," Stern said. "What will people put? Will there be a lot of craters named for politicians? For artists, for relatives, for places on Earth? Sports teams?"

My name for a planet: Sigourney Weaver.

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