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NASA picks 'Perseverance' as new name for Mars 2020 rover

March 5, 2020

— When NASA's next rover extends its robotic arm on Mars next year, it will do so with "Perseverance," thanks to the contest entry of a 13-year-old student from Virginia.

Now attached to the arm is a laser-inscribed plate displaying "Perseverance" as the rover's newly-revealed name. The six wheeled science platform was known previously as NASA's Mars 2020 rover.

"Like every exploration mission before, our rover is going to face challenges, and it's going to make amazing discoveries. It's already surmounted many obstacles to get us to the point where we are today — processing for launch," said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's associate administrator for science. "That inspiring work will always require perseverance. We can't wait to see that nameplate on Mars."

Scheduled to launch this July from Cape Canaveral in Florida, Perseverance is targeted to land on Mars' Jezero Crater a little after 3:40 p.m. EST (2040 GMT) on Feb. 18, 2021. The rover's mission includes searching for signs of past microbial life, characterizing the planet's climate and geology and collecting caches of rock and dust for a future Mars sample return mission to Earth.

"Today we are naming a spacecraft that will go to Mars and make measurements we have never made before. It will be the first leg of the first roundtrip of humanity to Mars, bringing back these samples that tell us secrets about life itself," said Zurbuchen, speaking Thursday (March 5) at Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke, Virginia.

Zurbuchen then helped congratulate Alex Mather, the seventh grade student at the school who submitted the winning entry in NASA's "Name the Rover" contest. Mather's choice of "Perseverance" was selected out of the 28,000 entries received from K-12 students from every U.S. state and territory.

"This Mars rover will help pave the way for [a] human presence there and I wanted to try and help in any way I could," said Mather.

In an essay accompanying his winning entry, Mather compared the names of past rovers and landers to his idea for the Mars 2020 mission.

"Curiosity, Insight, Spirit, Opportunity — if you think about it, all of these names of past rovers are qualities we possess as humans. We are always curious and seek opportunity. We have the spirit and insight to explore the moon, Mars and beyond. But, if rovers are to be the qualities of us as a race, we missed the most important thing, perseverance," wrote Mather.

"We as humans evolved as creatures who could learn to adapt to any situation, no matter how harsh. We are a species of explorers and we will meet many setbacks on the way to Mars," he wrote. "However, we can persevere."

Mather is now among the few students who have been credited with naming Mars-bound wheeled explorers.

Sojourner, part of the 1997 Mars Pathfinder mission and the first rover to land on Mars, was named for African-American abolitionist and women's rights activist Sojourner Truth based on a contest entry by Valerie Ambroise, then 12 years old, of Bridgeport, Connecticut.

NASA's twin Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, which were active on Mars from 2004 through 2010 (Spirit) and 2018 (Opportunity), were named by Sofi Collis, a nine-year-old student from Scottsdale, Arizona. Collis, who was born in Siberia, Russia, drew inspiration from the spirit and opportunity that living in the United States provided her.

Clara Ma of Lenexa, Kansas named Curiosity after NASA selected her contest entry out of the 9,000 proposals it received. "Curiosity is the passion that drives us through our everyday lives," Ma, then 12, wrote in her essay.

Mather became interested in space exploration after attending Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama in 2018. As his prize for naming Perseverance, Mather and his family have be invited to travel to Cape Canaveral to witness the rover begin its journey when it launches this summer.

In addition to the Perseverance nameplate, which will serve as a rock guard on Mars, protecting the science instruments mounted to the end of the robotic arm, the rover will also carry a silicon chip etched with the 155 semifinalist entries, including the eight finalists' proposed names that were not chosen: Endurance, Tenacity, Promise, Vision, Clarity, Ingenuity, Fortitude and Courage.

After nearly 4,700 educators, professionals and space enthusiasts helped select the semifinalists, the general public went online and casted more than 770,000 votes for their favorites. Mather's "Perseverance" was chosen as the winner by a panel including Ma, who named Curiosity; Lori Glaze, director of NASA's planetary science division; astronaut Jessica Watkins and rover driver Nick Wiltsie at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.


A titanium nameplate is seen on the robotic arm of NASA's newly-named Mars Perseverance rover in the payload servicing facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida soon after being attached on March 4, 2020. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Alex Mather, the student whose submission, Perseverance, was chosen as the official name of the Mars 2020 rover, reads from his winning essay entry, Thursday, March 5, 2020, at Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke, Virginia. (NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)

Artist's illustration depicting NASA's Perseverance rover operating on the surface of Mars. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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