We can finally stop calling NASA’s next Mars rover by its “Mars 2020” placeholder name. The rover which will succeed Curiosity on the red planet will be known as Perseverance. As with many of NASA’s previous rovers, Perseverance was named by a young student who submitted one of the thousands of suggestions. “Perseverance” was voted as the best name, and NASA has added a plaque to the rover’s arm to make it official.
The winning name (and accompanying essay) came from seventh-grader Alexander Mather from Virginia. NASA received 28,000 entries from K-12 students across every US state and territory. More than 4,700 judges helped to whittle down the entries to a more manageable number, and the public had their chance to vote, too.
Mather’s entry drew comparisons between the names of past Mars missions like Curiosity and Spirit, noting that these names all describe the qualities of humanity. “We are a species of explorers, and we will meet many setbacks on the way to Mars. However, we can persevere,” Mather wrote. They say you have to know your audience, and Mather certainly does — he gave NASA exactly what it wanted.
NASA has invented school kids to name all of its Mars rovers going all the way back to Sojourner in 1997. Opportunity, Spirit, and Curiosity also got their names in similar essay contests. In addition to being immortalized by the rover itself, Mather and his family will be invited to attend the rover’s launch at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida this summer. He also gets to include naming a Mars rover on his college applications in a few years. No big deal.
Currently, Perseverance is undergoing final assembly at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The rover uses many elements of Curiosity’s highly successful design, but NASA has also made some important changes. For example, the rover has stronger wheels that should hold up better than Curiosity’s rims.
Perseverance will launch in July 2020, making the trip to Mars in just a few months thanks to the fortuitous alignment of the planets. It should touch down in Jezero Crater in February 2021. On Mars, the rover will analyze the environment for signs of ancient or current life. Perseverance will also hunt for subsurface water and characterize Mars’ weather. It even has a long-term sample return container that a future mission could use to return a piece of Mars to Earth.
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