Mars 2020: NASA launches student contest to name its Martian rover

Whether it’s propelling prototype Hyperloop pods along a test track, using your noggin to excel in a science contest, or bagging $3 million for winning a video game, students get to do some pretty cool stuff these days.

The next big opportunity to land for those just setting out in the world comes in the form of a contest to name the Mars 2020 rover.

That’s right, kids, in a couple of years a vehicle trundling across the surface of the Red Planet more than a hundred million miles away might have the name that you dreamed up for it.

From now until November 1, NASA is inviting K-12 students in U.S. public, private, and home schools to come up with a name for the rover that’ll be judged on its “appropriateness, significance, and originality.”

Suggestions will also need to be backed up by a short essay, so if you do go for Rover McRoverface, you’ll have to spin a darn good story to impress the judges.

Artist’s concept of NASA’s Mars 2020 rover exploring Mars. NASA

NASA initiative

The Name the Rover contest is part of a NASA initiative to engage students in the STEM enterprise behind Mars exploration and encourage an interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, the space agency said.

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said the contest is “a wonderful opportunity for our nation’s youth to get involved with NASA’s Moon to Mars missions,” adding, “It’s an exciting way to engage with a rover that will likely serve as the first leg of a Mars ‘sample return’ campaign, collecting and caching core samples from the Martian surface for scientists here on Earth to study for the first time.”

The Mars 2020 rover is described by NASA as a 2,300-pound (1,040-kilogram) “robotic scientist” that will be tasked with searching for signs of past microbial life on Mars, as well as gathering samples and conducting research to aid possible human exploration of the planet.

The contest

For the contest, 52 semifinalists will be selected from three groups sorted by grade level (K-4, 5-8, and 9-12), with each one representing their respective state or U.S. territory. Three finalists will then be chosen from each group for the final round in which members of the public will have an opportunity to vote online.

The winning name will be revealed on February 18, 2020, precisely one year before the rover is expected to touch down on Mars.

As a bonus, the winner will also be invited to watch the spacecraft launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida in July 2020. Interested? Head here for more details.

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