Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die ...
-- Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
The late science fiction author Ray Bradbury remains on Earth in body, but a piece of him will rest on the surface of Mars for centuries to come, adding him to the pantheon of scientists, artists, musicians and even comedians who've left their mark in space.
Bradbury's Martian Chronicles, a collection of stories following humans settling on the Red Planet and their ensuing conflicts with native Martians, is included in a library of literature that hitched a ride on NASA's Phoenix lander, which touched down on the surface of Mars in May 2008. The library is encoded on a DVD attached to the hull of Phoenix, which was sent off to Mars to look for conditions that could support microbial life.
Though NASA lost contact with Phoenix in November 2008, the lander remains on the surface, meaning that any interested future astronaut, Martian colonist or visiting alien -- assuming they haven't made the switch to Blu-Ray -- would be able to rifle through the DVD. They'd find not only Bradbury's work, but other Mars-inspired literature such as Edgar Rice Burroughs' A Princess of Mars, the inspiration for the Disney film John Carter.
The Phoenix DVD also contains both the print and radio versions of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds, the science fiction classic that caused widespread panic across America when radio listeners mistook its audio broadcast as actual news reports about a Martian invasion of Earth.
This Martian library was inspired in part by the Voyager Golden Records, a pair of phonograph records aboard the Voyager I and Voyager II space craft that are carrying images and sounds from Earth beyond our solar system. In addition to natural sounds, the records include a diverse survey of music, from Chuck Berry to Johann Sebastian Bach.
And it's not just music and literature that's floating out in space either.
In October 2008, video game developer Richard Garriott took the DNA of several celebrities, including physicist Stephen Hawking, up to the International Space Station on a memory device called the Immortality Drive, which is intended to preserve a record of human DNA as a backup in the event of a complete global holocaust (perhaps for the aliens to pick up after they've finished paging through our library on Mars).
Comedian Stephen Colbert, one of the lucky few humans to have his genetic material stored in orbit, said at the time that he was pleased by the prospect of serving as a backup for the human race.
I am thrilled to have my DNA shot into space, as this brings me one step closer to my lifelong dream of being the baby at the end of ['2001: A Space Odyssey'], Colbert said.