This illustration depicts NASA's next Mars rover, which launches in 2020. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.
NASA's Mars 2020 rover is still awaiting to gets it very own name but looks like the wait is about to get over. The space agency had organised a "Name the Rover" essay contest in the US which has already entered the semi-final stage. The winner gets the honour of naming the rover as well as an invitation to see the spacecraft launch in July 2020 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
The essay writing competition from NASA saw participation from over 28,000 students across the US and the space agency has now narrowed it down to 155 students for the semifinals. NASA had recruited around 4,700 volunteer judges from all over the country from a poll of educators, professional, and space enthusiasts to judge the contest.
NASA says that the next phases of judging will reduce the competition to nine finalists, after which the public will have an opportunity to vote for their favourite name online later this month. The results of the poll will be a consideration in the final naming selection.
In a clean room at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, engineers observed the first driving test for NASA's Mars 2020 rover on Dec. 17, 2019. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
"The nine finalists will talk with a panel of experts, including Glaze, NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins, NASA JPL rover driver Nick Wiltsie and Clara Ma, who proposed the name for the Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity, as a sixth-grade student in 2009," NASA said in a statement.
The final name for the rover and the winner for the competition will be announced in early March 2020.
Currently, the unnamed rover weighs more than 1,000 kilograms and NASA calls it a robotic scientist. It will search for signs of past microbial life, characterize the planet's climate and geology, collect samples for a future return to Earth and pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet.
"This rover is the first leg of a round-trip mission to Mars that will advance understanding in key science fields like astrobiology," said Lori Glaze, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division. "This contest is a cool way to engage the next generation and encourage careers in all STEM fields. The chosen name will help define this rover's unique personality among our fleet of Martian spacecraft."
NASA's Mars 2020 rover is part of a larger program that includes missions to the Moon as a way to prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet. NASA aims to send astronauts to the Moon by 2024 and establish a sustained human presence on and around the Moon by 2028 through its Artemis lunar exploration plans.