After a months-long naming contest, NASA has renamed its newest Mars rover Perseverance ahead of the robot’s scheduled launch to the Red Planet in July. The new title will replace the bot’s current nickname, Mars 2020, which has been the unofficial title of the rover for much of the last decade.
The space agency picked the name from nine finalist options that were submitted by US students ranging from kindergarten to high school. To enter NASA’s Name the Rover contest, which began in August, students had to submit a suggestion along with a 150-word essay explaining the meaning behind their name idea. Originally, NASA received 28,000 essays from US students, and thousands of volunteer judges helped whittle down the selection to the finalists.
NASA had the public vote on its favorite options — which included titles such as Ingenuity and Clarity — while the finalists discussed their ideas with a panel of NASA experts. Ultimately, NASA decided on Perseverance, which was submitted by seventh-grader Alexander Mather from Springfield, Virginia.
“We are a species of explorers, and we will meet many setbacks on the way to Mars. However, we can persevere. We, not as a nation but as humans, will not give up,” Mather wrote in his essay. As the grand prize winner of the contest, Mather has an invitation to fly out to Cape Canaveral, Florida, to watch the rover launch on top of an Atlas V rocket this summer.
NASA’s newly minted Perseverance rover has a big mission while on the Red Planet: look for past signs of life on Mars and learn more about the planet’s history billions of years ago. The Perseverance rover is also meant to be the first step in an ambitious two-part mission that could one day return Martian samples to Earth. The rover will dig up parts of the planet’s surface and leave samples behind where they will hopefully be picked up by another spacecraft that’s capable of transporting the materials back to our world. NASA is still many years away from creating and launching the vehicles needed to get those samples back to our planet, but at least the Perseverance rover will have dug up some options for the future spacecraft to retrieve.
The Perseverance rover is set to land on February 18th, 2021, in an area on Mars known as Jezero Crater, which may have been an ancient river delta that hosted life billions of years ago. If it lands successfully, it’ll be one of two functioning rovers on Mars; the other is NASA’s Curiosity rover, which has been exploring Gale Crater since 2012. Curiosity also got its name through a naming contest, won by then-sixth-grader Clara Ma from Kansas. Ma said that winning that contest back in 2009 was a life-changing experience.
“I was really, really shy as a kid,” Ma said, according to NASA. “I didn’t think my voice was important. But after winning the naming contest, there was a lot of attention on me — unlike anything I’d ever known. My life would not be the same if I hadn’t spoken up to articulate my thoughts.”