(WASHINGTON) — NASA officials revealed on Thursday the new name of the 2020 Mars rover: Perseverance.
The space agency named Alexander Mather, a seventh grader from Lake Braddock Secondary School in Virginia, as the winner of the “Name the Rover” contest. Mather was one of 28,000 entries for the contest nationwide.
“We are a species of explorers, and we will meet many setbacks on the way to Mars. However, we can persevere,” Mather said in his winning essay, adding “the human race will always persevere into the future.”
Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA, said Mather’s essay captured the spirit of exploration — and that’s why he ultimately won.
“Like every exploration mission before, our rover is going to face challenges, and it’s going to make amazing discoveries … Alex and his classmates are the Artemis Generation, and they’re going to be taking the next steps into space that lead to Mars,” Zurbuchen said in a statement.
He added, “That inspiring work will always require perseverance. We can’t wait to see that nameplate on Mars.”
Mather’s interest in space took off when he went to space camp in Alabama where he saw a Saturn V — the rocket that launched Apollo-mission astronauts to the moon — and became a space enthusiast, he said.
“This Mars rover will help pave the way for human presence there and I wanted to try and help in any way I could,” Mather said in a statement, explaining why he chose to join the naming contest. “Refusal of the challenge was not an option.”
The students who entered the contest — ranged from kindergarten to grade 12 — came up with suitable one-word names for the rover and were required to submit a short essay explaining why they chose the name.
The contest started in August 2019 when the space agency wanted to challenge young students to learn about a real NASA mission, apply critical thinking skills and form questions about a place they may have not heard of.
With the help of 4,700 volunteer judges, the entries were narrowed down from 28,000 students to 155 semi-finalists and then nine finalists — the shortlisted names were: Endurance, Tenacity, Promise, Perseverance, Vision, Clarity, Ingenuity, Fortitude and Courage.
While Mather received NASA’s grand prize, NASA is acknowledging the contributions of semifinalists as well.
“All 155 semifinalists’ proposed rover names and essays have been stenciled onto a silicon chip with lines of text smaller than one-thousandth the width of a human hair and will be flown to Mars aboard the rover,” Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division said in a statement.
Internationally, more than 770,000 participants submitted votes in a public poll, where they voted for their favorite names, according to NASA.
After polls closed, the nine student finalists were interviewed by a panel including NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins, NASA rover driver Nick Wiltsie and Clara Ma — who named the Mars rover Curiosity in 2009 as a sixth grader.
NASA said Mather will then be invited to see the spacecraft launch in July or August from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Perseverance, which currently weighs more than 2,300 pounds, is set to land in February 2021. The rover will roam the red planet for at least one Mars year — which is the equivalent of 687 days on Earth.
Mather’s essay will also be featured on NASA’s website.
The mission to launch this rover is set for a time when Earth and Mars are in good orbit positions relative to one another, according to NASA officials, which means that it takes less power to travel and land on Mars during that time.
The Mars 2020 rover mission is part of NASA’s Mars exploration program, which has been a long-term effort of robotic exploration of the red planet.
This mission is taking a step forward by studying Mars’ habitability, seeking signs of past microbial life and collecting core samples of rock and soils and storing them.
NASA officially ended the mission for its previous rover Opportunity last month, after it spent 15 years roaming Mars.
Opportunity went silent on June 10 after a massive dust storm covered the planet, according to NASA.
The rover was then declared dead after scientists sent out more than 800 commands asking the rover to respond and had not heard back.
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