The next rover that NASA plans to send to our red, celestial neighbor will be called “Perseverance,” a name proposed by Alex Mather, a seventh grade student from Virginia.
At an unveiling event on Thursday, Mather read the essay he submitted to NASA explaining why he believed the rover, formerly known as “Mars 2020,” should take on that title:
“Curiosity. Insight. Spirit. Opportunity. If you think about it, all of these names of past Mars rovers are qualities we possess as humans. We are always curious, and seek opportunity. We have the spirit and insight to explore the moon, Mars, and beyond. But if rovers are to be the qualities of us as a race, we missed the most important thing: perseverance. We as humans evolved as creatures who could learn to adapt to any situation, no matter how harsh. We are a species of explorers, and we will meet many setbacks on the way to Mars. However, we can persevere. We — not as a nation, but as humans — will not give up. The human race will always persevere into the future.”
Thomas Zurbuchen, who serves as associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, announced the decision. He explained why the name is a fitting complement to NASA’s other active rover, Curiosity, which landed on Mars in 2012.
“There has never been exploration, [never] been making history without perseverance,” Zurbuchen said. “Perseverance and curiosity together are what exploration is all about.”
Perseverance is set to launch in July and land inside Mars’ Jezero Crater early next year. In 2019, NASA sent out its call for name suggestions to K-12 students in every U.S. state and territory.
Those submissions were whittled down to nine final contenders, with three in each age category: Endurance, Tenacity and Promise (grades K-4); Perseverance, Vision and Clarity (grades 5-8); and Ingenuity, Fortitude and Courage (grades 9-12).
The public had the opportunity to vote on their favorite name out of those options, but the decision was ultimately made by Zurbuchen.
Perseverance is the size of an average car, and its configuration closely resembles Curiosity. A key element of the new rover’s mission will include searching for ancient evidence of habitable conditions, as well as “past microbial life itself,” by collecting core samples of rocks and soils on the planet. A separate future mission could potentially transport those samples to Earth.
The mission will also offer opportunities to learn more about specific challenges impacting future human exploration of Mars, and to test technologies that could aid that effort. According to NASA, those include “testing a method for producing oxygen from the Martian atmosphere,” improving landing techniques, and characterizing environmental conditions that could affect astronauts living and working on Mars.