Your Kid Could Name the Mars 2020 Rover

Artist concept of NASA's Mars 2020 rover, scheduled for launch in summer 2020.  (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA plans soon to send another robotic rover to Mars. The only problem is, the agency needs a good name for it.

That's where young minds come in. If you’re in kindergarten to 12th grade, you may be able to help out. 

Instead of sitting around a conference room table and brainstorming a list of cute, nerdy acronyms, NASA is holding a contest for students in the U.S. to name the Mars 2020 Rover under construction at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. 

Engineers testing Mars 2020's robotic arm in a clean room at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The car-sized, six-wheeled, robot-arm-wielding explorer will hunt for signs of past Martian life. It'll carry a small experimental helicopter drone that will be the first machine ever to fly on Mars, or on any planet. 

If you have a great name idea and can write a short, inspiring essay to sell it, you could claim the credit. Imagine that. 

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Essays must be submitted by Nov. 1st. Make sure they're no more than 150 words long.

If you need further inspiration for your winning name and essay, you can discover more amazing facts about this Martian-seeking robot at NASA’s Mars 2020 website

The Mars 2020 Rover

Mars 2020 launches next summer, headed for a February 2021 landing in Jezero Crater on Mars. 

False-colored elevation map of the region surrounding Jezero Crater (center) on Mars. Blue shows the northwestern corner of Isidris Planitia.
False-colored elevation map of the region surrounding Jezero Crater (center) on Mars. Blue shows the northwestern corner of Isidris Planitia. (USGS)

Jezero Crater may be a great place to look for the chemical and mineral signs left behind by ancient Martian organisms. Researchers believe the crater used to be flooded with water. Today it possesses river-delta-like fans of clay deposits. What upstream materials did river waters wash along and deposit there in the ancient past? We don’t know, yet — but Mars 2020 is determined to find out. 

Image of an ancient river delta deposit at the edge of Jezero Crater, captured by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Image of an ancient river delta deposit at the edge of Jezero Crater, captured by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU)

The robot is physically very similar to NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity. Right now it's exploring the layers of sedimentary rock on Mount Sharp, in Gale Crater, studying Mars’ past climates and the role liquid water played throughout the planet's history. 

Teams have designed Mars 2020 to look for evidence of past life on Mars, not just water. No Mars mission has been equipped to look for Martians since the Viking landers in 1976. They carried biochemistry experiments to test soil samples for activity of present-day life processes. The results were inconclusive. 

Mars 2020 will carry with it an experimental drone helicopter to test concepts such as aerial reconnaissance and remote exploration.
Mars 2020 will carry with it an experimental drone helicopter to test concepts such as aerial reconnaissance and remote exploration. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Other Mars Robots Named By Students

From the first Mars rover, Sojourner in 1997, Earth’s youngest space enthusiasts have been naming these machines. The 23-pound robot for the Pathfinder mission got its name after a year-long, international contest in which NASA challenged students up to 18 years old to submit essays of their personal heroines and their historical accomplishments.

Twelve-year-old Valerie Ambrose of Bridgeport, Connecticut wrote an essay about Sojourner Truth, a 19th Century African-American abolitionist who championed women’s rights and traveled "up and down the land” in pursuit of her cause. 

“Sojourner” means “traveler."  Although the tiny rover traveled no more than 330 feet, it was the very first ground an explorer from Earth traversed on Mars.

Seven years after Sojourner, nine-year-old Sofi Collis of Scottsdale, Arizona named the twin Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity. Sofi’s essay described how she arrived in America from an orphanage in Siberia, and how coming here could make her dreams come true. “Thank you for the ‘Spirit’ and the ‘Opportunity’,” she wrote in her essay.

Clara Ma wrote the winning essay that named Curiosity, the predecessor of the Mars 2020 rover.
Clara Ma wrote the winning essay that named Curiosity, the predecessor of the Mars 2020 rover. (NASA)

Twelve-year-old Clara Ma of Lenexa, Kansas wrote the essay that named the next Mars rover, six years after Spirit and Opportunity landed. Her essay, “Curiosity,” about the flame of wonder burning in everyone’s minds, apparently resonated with NASA’s passion for exploring Mars, and so Curiosity became the given name of the Mars Science Laboratory rover.

Out of This World Competition

So, the count stands at four Mars rovers named by three pre-teen girls. That’s pretty steep competition, but the contest to name the Mars 2020 rover is open to all U.S. students from kindergarten to 12th grade. 

If you think you have a winning name, start writing that winning essay. 

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