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Piecing Together a Time Capsule to Mars

A Duke University junior is leading a cohort of students from across the nation on a mission to Mars—and she’s hoping the rest of the world will join them for the journey

Growing up, Emily Briere didn’t have an adequate outlet to pour her enthusiasm for space exploration into. That’s a problem she intends to fix for the generation growing up behind her.

“I am currently one of the leaders of a space endeavor that we believe could refocus the space race and remind ourselves what this is all about,” said Briere, a junior in mechanical engineering and materials science at Duke, during a recent speech in Washington, D.C. “It is one that, like sending man to the moon, involves technologies that do not yet exist and challenges yet to be conquered. It is one with a goal of involving every country in the world and providing an opportunity to embrace as many people as possible, of all ages.”

Emiliy BriereThose three lines summarize the main message behind Briere’s presentation to the National Space Club during its 57th Annual Goddard Memorial Dinner Awards on March 7, 2014. She was invited to speak as this year’s recipient of the Goddard Memorial Dinner Keynote Scholarship, an honor she earned through a national search and competition that also includes a $10,000 award.

The honor brought the opportunity to speak before 2,000 of the best and brightest that the space industry has to offer—and to raise awareness of a new endeavor she co-founded to try to grab the world’s attention and point it toward the stars once more.

The project, dubbed Time Capsule to Mars, aims to raise money through crowd-sourced contributions and corporate donations to design, launch and land a time capsule on the surface of Mars using emerging technologies. The hope is that people around the world interested in space can join the mission, track its progress through its website and let their imagination and potential skyrocket.

“People around the world will be able to send in photos, audio and video, and we’ll encode it on our time capsule that will last literally millions of years,” says Briere. “We also want to make it an educational vehicle for students who can track the capsule’s trajectory online and work on curriculum-based projects about the spacecraft.”

Briere, who is one of Glamour's Top 10 College Women 2014, believes that space exploration has become a prize to win rather than an awe-inspiring journey for the betterment of all mankind, and she hopes the budding project will tip the scales in the other direction.

She’s drawing a lot of people to her cause.

The project was dreamed up with co-founder Eric Knight, president and founder of Remarkable Technologies, Inc., along with her father and little brother after the 2013 Humans 2 Mars summit around a dinner table at a TGI Fridays. Since then, Briere has teamed up with students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Space Propulsion Lab, where the project is centered. She has also recruited a handful of Duke Fuqua School of Business students, including her twin brother Nick, to handle the economic side of the project.

As the mission matures, Briere plans to distribute all aspects of the project—from aerodynamics to propulsion—to student-led teams at universities across the nation from Yale to the California Institute of Technology. She also hopes to attract corporate sponsors such as Squarespace, which has already donated web development and hosting to the mission.

Briere is one of Glamour's Top 10 College Women 2014.

Landing a database that literally lasts millions of years on the surface of Mars also requires a bit of funding—about $24 million worth, by Briere’s estimation. While that may seem like a lot, it’s a paltry sum compared to the billions of dollars spent on NASA missions to extraterrestrial bodies. The team plans to launch a crowd-sourced funding initiative in the coming months where people from around the world can purchase space on the time capsule’s databanks. And after giving a speech to thousands of space industry luminaries and executives, Briere hopes she has attracted the attention of larger investors as well.

It’s a feat that will take a lot of time and effort to accomplish—indeed, some of the technology the project is planning on using is still being developed and might not be tested in an actual mission until being deployed on the Time Capsule to Mars. But it’s a goal that Briere hopes millions across the world will grab hold of and help make a reality.

“We’re currently taking name suggestions for the mission and have gotten entries from all over the world. We just want something that everyone can be part of because that didn’t really exist when I was growing up,” said Briere in an interview before her recent speech. “I’m hoping to make some new connections while I’m in Washington and get more people in the space industry involved. It’s a really great opportunity.”

Watch Briere’s speech on YouTube or visit the Time Capsule to Mars' website to learn more about the project.