SPRINGFIELD, Virginia (AP) — One young schoolboy may be watching NASA’s Mars 2020 mission launch more closely than others.
13-year-old Alex Mather submitted the winning name, “Perseverance”, as part of a naming contest for NASA’s next Mars rover.
As part of the naming contest for U.S. schoolchildren, almost 4,700 volunteer judges narrowed down a pool of 28,000 contest entries down to 155 semifinalists.
Once it was down to nine finalists, the public was invited to vote online.
13-year-old Mather, who lives in Virginia, says he came up with “Perseverance” after reading about the challenges of past Mars missions.
Perseverance is the latest in a long line of NASA Mars rovers to be named by schoolchildren – from Sojourner rover that landed in 1997, to Curiosity, which has been exploring the Red Planet since 2012.
Mather says he became enamored with space at age 11, while attending Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama.
He particularly remembers the moment he first saw an authentic Saturn V rocket, the same used during NASA’s Apollo program that helped deliver astronauts to the moon.
From that moment on, video games took a back seat. Mather says he now wants to become an engineer and work for NASA. Perhaps even apply to become an astronaut.
As part of submitting the winning entry, Mather and his family won a trip to Cape Canaveral, Florida, to watch the Perseverance launch.
He says they still hope to attend the launch, despite the coronavirus virus outbreak.
Perseverance is NASA’s most ambitious Mars mission yet, totaling around $3 billion USD.
Besides seeking for signs of past microscopic Martian life, the rover will gather rocks and soil for eventual return to Earth.
NASA recently delayed the launch of its newest Mars rover to the end of July at the earliest, due to a rocket issue.
Managers are now targeting no earlier than July 30 for a liftoff from Cape Canaveral, eating up half of the month long launch window.