In the summer, NASA will launch another rover towards Mars. It is currently known as the Mars 2020 Rover, but it will soon take another name – and it will be picked among 28,000 entries submitted by students across the U.S.
The list of students has now been reduced to “just” 155 semifinalists, although not 155 names as some have suggested. The entries are accompanied by descriptions about why the students from kindergarten to 12th grade picked that particular name. The full list of names can be seen on the Future Engineers website.
Among our favorites, there’s Pyassa – the Urdu word for thirst, ideal for a rover that will look for subsurface water. Another good name is Merian, after Maria Sibylla Merian, the German-born naturalists of the 17th century. There is also Nunnehi, which means "traveler" in the Cherokee language. The simple but effective Dusty is also a contender, and we can be certain the rover will indeed be dusty.
"This rover is the first leg of a round-trip mission to Mars that will advance understanding in key science fields like astrobiology," Lori Glaze, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division, said in a statement. "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."
The next phase of judging will boil down the names to just nine finalists. These nine names will be presented by the students themselves to a panel of experts, which include astronauts, rover engineers, and Clara Ma, who won the contest to name NASA’s Curiosity Rover in 2009. The contest will also receive input from the public. From late January, the nine names will be online and people can vote for their favorite. The judging panel will take this vote into account before the winner is announced in early March 2020.
Mars Rover 2020 will collect rock core and soil samples from sites on Mars that are likely to have been habitable, as well as test tech for future human exploration of the Red Planet. It is expected to launch in July and land on Mars in early 2021.