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Library hitches ride to Mars

Rover carries microchip inscribed from Girard

Brylee Pitts, 6, left, and Brynn Pitts, 4, look at the Mars rover display at Girard Free Library.

GIRARD — Girard Free Library “is the jewel of the community,” Director Rose Ann Lubert always says. “And now we are the jewel of outer space,” she adds.

The library was able to get a microchip with the words “Girard Free Library Children’s Department” onto the Perseverance rover, which successfully touched down Thursday on Mars.

Maria Selak, children’s librarian, said the library in summer 2019 had a reading program for children, “A Universe of Stories.” A check of the NASA website revealed that groups, organizations and businesses could get their names on microchips on the rover.

“I applied with NASA and filled out all the information, and they sent me back a boarding pass, which indicated the Girard Free Library microchip was approved and would be on the rover. The information I gave them was on the microchip,” Selak said.

She said the rover left July 30, 2020, from Cape Canaveral in Florida and landed on Mars just last week.

She said the rover traveled 313,586,649 miles.

The library has set up a special display to note the achievement with books and decorations about Mars.

“We are planted there on Mars on the rover, which is collecting items. It’s not coming back down for 10 years,” Selak said.

She said years ago she sent a letter to NASA saying, if they ever wanted to send a librarian into space, she would volunteer.

“They sent a teacher so I thought, why not a librarian,” she said — noting she did not get a response.

Kelsey Pitts of Vienna with her two daughters, Brylee, 6, and Brynn, 4, were looking at the display and said they were surprised to hear the news.

“This is so neat to know our local library in some way is in space,” Pitts said.

Anthony Graziano, a 2017 Girard High School graduate, said he is impressed to learn of the library’s special achievement.

“It’s hard to believe this. I had no idea,” he said.

The Perseverance rover touched down on Mars near an ancient river delta, where it will search for signs of ancient life and set aside the most promising rock samples for return to Earth in a decade, according to NASA.

NASA equipped the spacecraft with a record 25 cameras and two microphones, many of which were turned on during Thursday’s descent.

“This is something that we’ve never seen before,” flight system engineer Aaron Stehura noted at a recent news conference. “It was stunning, and the team was awestruck. There’s just a feeling of victory that we were able to capture these and share it with the world.”

The vehicle is healthy, according to officials, after landing on a flat, safe surface in Jezero Crater with just 1 degree of tilt and relatively small rocks nearby. For now, the systems still are being checked. It will be at least a week before the rover starts driving.

As it did with 2012’s Curiosity rover — still roaming 2,300 miles away — NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter photographed Perseverance descending beneath its massive parachute. In each case, the spacecraft and chute resembled specks.

The Associated Press contributed to the article.

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