Next year, Mars will have a new NASA rover rolling across its dusty surface and after a nationwide competition to choose its name, the agency has revealed what it will be called. The rover's name is Perseverance and it was proposed by 13-year-old Alexander Mather of Virginia. The rover was until this point known by its generic Mars 2020 monicker, chosen at the time due to its launch window. Perseverance is due to launch between July and August of this year.
"There has never been exploration, there has never been making history, without perseverance," Thomas Zurbuchen, the Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA, said announcing the name during the press conference.
From 28,000 essays proposing potential names, 155 semifinalists were chosen from students from kindergarten to 12th grade. These were whittled down to nine finalists in January and today the winner was finally announced. The final name was decided by a panel of experts that included astronauts, rover engineers, and Clara Ma, who won the contest to name NASA’s Curiosity rover in 2009. The public also helped with the voting, but if Boaty Mc Boatface taught us anything, it's that it’s better to consult the public rather than leaving them to make the final decision.
Among the finalist names were Ingenuity, Tenacity, and Fortitude, names that fit well with any exploratory mission (and you never know, may still be used in the future). NASA loves to use names that captivate and inspire the public, and provide a whole new dimension to that specific word. For example, Curiosity and InSight, both of which are exploring Mars right now, like Spirit and Opportunity did before them. And in less than a year, Perseverance will join their ranks.
"This was a chance to help the agency that put humans on the Moon and will soon do it again," said Mather. "This Mars rover will help pave the way for human presence there and I wanted to try and help in any way I could. Refusal of the challenge was not an option."
The rover is expected to land on Mars on February 18, 2021 in Jezero Crater. The crater is named after the Bosnian town of Jezero, which in several Slavic languages translates to "lake". It's very apt as planetary scientists believe this to be the location of an ancient lake.
Perseverance will investigate the geological process that took place on the shore of this ancient lake and it will assess its past habitability. Its design is inspired by Curiosity, with some well-tested components but also with new scientific instruments and core drill for sample removals. It will also carry a helicopter drone.
The work of the rover won’t just be focusing on the Red Planet's past but also on its future. Analysis of subsurface water and characterization of a wide range of environmental factors from dust to weather will be very important in planning a future human expedition to Mars. Perseverance will launch from the Kennedy Space Center where so many missions, including the Apollo program, started from. One day soon we hope, the first humans to go to Mars might launch from the same place.