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A rover by any other name: NASA asks students to name Mars rover

August 30, 2019

— NASA's next Mars rover is in need of a name.

The space agency on Tuesday (Aug. 27) launched a contest for U.S. students to name its new six-wheeled robotic probe launching to the red planet next year. The Mars 2020 Name the Rover contest is part of NASA's efforts to inspire students to take an interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and in the STEM enterprise behind Mars exploration.

"This naming contest is a wonderful opportunity for our nation's youth to get involved with NASA's Moon to Mars missions. It is an exciting way to engage with a rover that will likely serve as the first leg of a Mars sample return campaign, collecting and caching core samples from the Martian surface for scientists here on Earth to study for the first time," said Jim Bridenstine, NASA Administrator.

The Mars 2020 rover, as it is presently referred to, will search for signs of past microbial life, characterize the planet's climate and geology and collect samples for future return to Earth. The rover shares a body design with NASA's Mars Science Laboratory "Curiosity," which has been exploring Mars' Gale Crater since August 2016.

"Our Mars 2020 rover has fully taken shape over the past several months, as the project team installed various components onto the chassis: the computer brain and electronics; wheels and mobility system; robotic arm; remote sensing mast; the seven science instruments; and finally, the sample caching system," said George Tahu, Mars 2020 program executive. "All that's missing is a great name!"

Name NASA's Next Mars Rover. Click to view and enlarge in pop-up window. (NASA/JPL)

The Name the Rover contest is open to all U.S. students in Kindergarten through 12th grade attending public, private or home schools. Entries, due by Nov. 1, need to include an essay of no more than 150 words that explains why the name being proposed should be chosen.

NASA plans to sort the submissions into three groups by grade level and judge them on the appropriateness, significance and originality of the proposed name and the originality and quality of the essay and/or finalist interview presentation.

Fifty-two semifinalists will be selected per group, each representing a state or U.S. territory. Three finalists then will be chosen from each group to advance to the final round. As part of the final selection process, the public will have an opportunity to vote online on the nine finalists in January 2020.

NASA plans to announce the Mars 2020 rover's new name on Feb. 18, 2020 — one year to the day before the spacecraft is slated to land on the surface of Mars.

NASA has turned to students to name all of its 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.

The Mars 2020 Name the Rover contest is a partnership between NASA, Battelle of Columbus, Ohio, and Future Engineers of Burbank, California. The winner will be credited with naming the rover and will be invited to see the spacecraft launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida in July 2020.


NASA is asking K-12 students across the United States to send in essays with their best name ideas for the Mars 2020 rover. (NASA)

Engineers test cameras on the top of the Mars 2020 rover's mast and front chassis at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (NASA)

Artist's rendition of NASA's Mars 2020 rover. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Clara Ma, who named Curiosity, added her name to the Mars rover before it was launched to the red planet. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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