Right now, NASA’s Mars Exploration Program is planning to send a rover to the red planet sometime in July or August of next year. There’s just one problem: NASA doesn’t know what to call it. In an effort to change that, the space agency is inviting students across America to submit proposals to the Mars 2020 Name the Rover essay contest. The winner will not only have the satisfaction of knowing that they named a Mars rover — they’ll actually have the rare opportunity to witness the launch of the spacecraft, too.
After traveling from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the 2,300-pound as-yet-unnamed rover is scheduled to land on Mars on February 18, 2021 in an ancient delta at Jezero Crater. The rover would then explore the area to study Mars’ geological diversity and look for signs that there may have been life on the planet. Throughout the course of one Mars year—or two Earth years—the rover would gather samples for study while testing the latest technology that could prove useful in future explorations of Mars.
“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, in a press release. “All that’s missing is a great name!”
All K-12 students in public, private, and home schools across the U.S. are eligible to enter. Students are asked to submit their ideas for names along with 150-word persuasive essays explaining why their name is the best. The essays will be “judged on the appropriateness, significance and originality of their proposed name, and the originality and quality of their essay, and/or finalist interview presentation.” The deadline to enter is November 1.
The entries will be divided into three groups. The first is for students between kindergarten and 4th grade; the second is for grades 5-8, and the third is for grades 9-12. Each group will have 52 semifinalists—one from each state—before each group is narrowed down to three semifinalists for the final round. The public will then have the opportunity to vote for their favorite entry from the nine finalists in January 2020, with the winner announced on February 18, 2020—a year to the day before the rover is planned to land on Mars.
“This naming contest is a wonderful opportunity for our nation’s youth to get involved with NASA’s Moon to Mars missions,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “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.”
For those who aren’t students but still want to be involved, NASA is also inviting adult-age volunteers to judge the contest, too.