NASA’s newest Mars rover gets christened with a ‘strong’ official name

The Mars 2020 rover now has an offical name: Perseverance. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s next Mars rover will depart Earth in July, bound for the red planet. After landing in Feb. of next year, the six-wheeled rover will explore its surroundings. Initially dubbed as Mars 2020 as a nod to its launch date, the rover has just received an official name: Perseverance.

As part of a nationwide contest, NASA challenged children in grades K-12 to come up with a name for the robotic explorer. This follows tradition as rovers of the past, and even planets (hello Pluto), have been named by children. Viking, Pathfinder, Sojourner, Spirit, Opportunity, Curiosity, InSight, and now Perseverance.

The newest rover will build on the success of those robotic explorers who came before it by collecting the first samples of Mars for a future return to Earth. It will also lay the groundwork for future human exploration by testing new technologies.

“Yes, it’s curiosity that pulls us out there, but it’s perseverance that does not let us give up,” Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for the science mission directorate said during a news conference on Thursday.

Although Curiosity and Perseverance look like twins, the two rovers are quite different. But, it takes the pair to help us better understand Mars and its habitability.

“Perseverance is a strong word,” he said. “It’s about making progress despite obstacles.”

“There has never been exploration without perseverance,” Zurbuchen added.

A total of 28,000 entries were received, and over the course of several months, NASA narrowed the field down to just 9 finalists. The public was asked to vote for its favorite, but ultimately the final decision was up to Zurbuchen. Each student was tasked with writing a brief essay supporting their choice in name. The finalists are listed below, and you can read more about the contest here.

  • Endurance, K-4, Oliver Jacobs of Virgina.
  • Tenacity, K-4, Eamon Reilly of Pennsylvania.
  • Promise, K-4, Amira Shanshiry of Massachusetts.
  • Perseverance, 5-8, Alexander Mather of Virginia.
  • Vision, 5-8, Hadley Green of Mississippi.
  • Clarity, 5-8, Nora Benitez of California.
  • Ingenuity, 9-12, Vaneeza Rupani of Alabama.
  • Fortitude, 9-12, Anthony Yoon of Oklahoma.
  • Courage, 9-12, Tori Gray of Louisiana.
A side-by-side view of the Mars 2020 and Curiosity rovers. Credit: NASA/JPL-Cal-Tech

The Perseverance Mars rover, which looks nearly identical to the Curiosity rover that landed in 2012, will begin its mission exploring Jezero Crater. Equipped with a suite of specially-designed instruments it will look for signs of life called biosignatures.

NASA’s research indicates that Mars was habitable sometime in its past. But so far, we haven’t been able to detect any real signs of ancient life yet. The rover’s team thinks that its specialized suite of instruments will change that.

To that end, Perseverance will drill into the Martian surface, extracting samples that will eventually be returned to Earth for further study. Returning the samples is a challenge that NASA is already starting to tackle, along with the European Space Agency. The agency estimates that the earliest it can send a mission to fetch the rover’s samples would be some time around 2026 or 2027.

The Mars helicopter is an autonomous rotorcraft that will travel with the 2020 rover. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

In the meantime, Perseverance will be busy scouring the surface for evidence of microbial life as well as testing out technologies that future human missions could rely on. It will also carry the first helicopter to explore another planet.

The small, autonomous rotorcraft, will launch attached to the rover’s belly. Shortly after arriving on Mars, the softball-sized craft will use its dual blades to slice through the Martian atmosphere. According to engineers, its blades will generate nearly 3,000 rpm — 10 times the rate of helicopters here on Earth. 

The Mars helicopter will conduct as many as five flights, each time flying a bit further away than the last. For its first flight, the helicopter will climb to 10 feet (3 meters), hovering for about 30 seconds. If this technology proves to be successful, this type of craft could be used to explore Mars ahead of human exploration.

Amy Thompson: I write about space, science, and future tech.
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