NASA reveals the name of its new Mars rover, with help from a teenager

6 Mar 2020

Illustration of the Perseverance rover. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

After thousands of suggestions from US students, NASA has named its latest Mars rover Perseverance.

In July or August of this year, a rocket carrying the latest robot to explore the surface of Mars will take off on a mission to search for signs of microbial life, among other things. Now, NASA has given it a new name: Perseverance.

A 13-year-old by the name of Alexander Mather was the one to give the rover its name after winning an essay contest for American students. His entry was one of 28,000 to the competition, and this is the latest in a long line of Mars rovers to be named by school-age children.

Future Human

These include Sojourner in 1997, the Spirit and Opportunity rovers, which landed on Mars in 2004, and Curiosity, which has been exploring Mars since 2012.

“Alex’s entry captured the spirit of exploration,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s science mission directorate.

“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.”

‘Refusal of the challenge was not an option’

Mather said that his interest in space was a relatively new one, having been more interested in video games until he visited a space camp two years ago. Since then, he has fallen in love with all things space, including building 3D-printed flyable model rockets.

“This was a chance to help the agency that put humans on the moon and will soon do it again,” said Mather. “This Mars rover will help pave the way for human presence there and I wanted to try and help in any way I could. Refusal of the challenge was not an option.”

NASA’s Perseverance rover weighs just over one tonne and, in addition to search for life, it will characterise the planet’s climate and geology, and collect samples of Martian rocks and dust for a future Mars sample return mission to Earth.

The rover’s launch window is set for between 17 July and 5 August, with a planned landing date of 18 February 2021. Its mission duration is one Martian year, which equates to 687 Earth days.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic