NASA’s Mars 2020 rover is getting ready for the trip of its lifetime. It is the next step in the space agency's exploration of the Red Planet's surface, following in the tyre tracks of Opportunity and Curiosity. But before it is launched into deep space in July this year, the car-sized robot explorer needs a name befitting of its noble task.
In 2019, NASA held a contest to name its latest robotic adventurer, and students from kindergarten to grade 12 were encouraged to submit their suggestions. And this week, the agency announced nine finalists from a total of 28,000 submissions.
Here is the shortlist of names, along with the names of the young students who suggested them:
- Endurance, Oliver Jacobs of Virginia
- Tenacity, Eamon Reilly of Pennsylvania
- Promise, Amira Shanshiry of Massachusetts
- Perseverance, Alexander Mather of Virginia
- Vision, Hadley Green of Mississippi
- Clarity, Nora Benitez of California
- Ingenuity, Vaneeza Rupani of Alabama
- Fortitude, Anthony Yoon of Oklahoma
- Courage, Tori Gray of Louisiana
You can vote for their favorite submission here.
The poll closes on January 27, 2020 at 9 p.m. Pacific.
"Thousands of students have shared their ideas for a name that will do our rover and the team proud," Lori Glaze, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division in Washington, said in a statement. "Now it is the public's opportunity to become involved and express their excitement for their favorites of the final nine."
After the vote closes, the student finalists will present their suggested names and the reasoning behind them in front of a panel that includes Glaze, NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins, NASA-JPL rover driver Nick Wiltsie, and Clara Ma, who named the Mars rover Curiosity back in 2009.
The winner will be announced in March, 2020, and will get a chance to see the rover launch into space from the Cape Carnaval Air Force Station in Florida in July.
The Mars rover is part of the agency’s Mars Exploration Program. Once it lands on Mars in February, 2021, the rover will look for both signs of current habitability and for microbial life that may have existed during the planet’s early history.
The robot will also collect samples from the Martian surface and store them for a future mission to return them to Earth. Ultimately, NASA hopes the rover will help pave the way for the first human mission to Mars, currently slated for sometime within the next decade.
NASA has already sent three rovers to Mars — Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity.
Both Spirit and Opportunity landed on the Red Planet in 2004. Spirit's mission came to an end when it became stuck in dust in 2009 — NASA ended attempts to save it in 2011, way past its planned 90-day expedition on the planet. Its sister rover, Opportunity, tragically lost contact with Earth in 2018 after a massive dust storm swept over Mars.
Curiosity, the latest addition to the robot family, landed on Mars in August, 2012. It is still roaming the Red Planet today — and it has no end date in sight.