Recent news of the now-lost Mars Polar Lander has renewed interest in the Elser-Mathes Cup. Visitors to ARRL HQ may recall having seen the unusual trophy on display. It's intended to mark the occasion of the first two-way Amateur Radio contact between Earth and Mars. (The actual bowl of the cup is borne by images of beings that only coincidentally resemble the large-eyed hominids of alien abduction lore; that was not the intention, however.--Ed)
The story of the Elser-Mathes cup appeared in the November 1969 issue of QST. In his article, "That Planet Mars QSO Cup," Col Fred Johnson Elser, W6FB, recalled meeting League founder Hiram Percy Maxim, W1AW, in the 1920s. He learned that Maxim had an interest in Mars and even owned a globe of "The Red Planet." Later, back in The Philippines--in 1928 under US jurisdiction--Elser was inspired by a visit with Philippines SCM Lt Cmdr Stanley Mathes, K1CY, to offer "a unique trophy" for the first two-way communication with Maxim's "pet planet," Mars.
The actual trophy selected by Elser and Mathes during a trip to Baguio is an example of Igorot native woodcarving. "The base symbolizes Earth and the seated figures are its inhabitants," Elser explained in QST. "The bowl is Mars, and the standing men are the amateurs who bridge the gap of space." The plate fastened to the cup includes space for the names and call signs of those who will one day fulfill the cup's eventual destiny. (In the meantime, if you'd like to send your name to Mars, visit http://spacekids.hq.nasa.gov/2001/).