NASA’s next Mars rover is officially called ‘Perseverance’

An artist’s rendering shows the rover using its drill to core a rock sample on Mars. NASA/JPL-Caltech

As NASA gears up to launch its next rover to Mars, it has finally given the pioneering robot a name: Perseverance.

The rover, previously called “Mars 2020,” is scheduled to launch on July 17 and land on Mars’s Jezero Crater on February 18, 2021. It will search for signs of past microbial life on the red planet and collect samples for a future mission that could return them to Earth.

Alexander Mather, a 7th-grade student at Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke, Virginia, proposed the name “Perseverance” in a NASA contest. He will be invited to watch the new rover launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

“We as humans evolved as creatures who could learn to adapt to any situation, no matter how harsh,” Mather wrote in his essay proposing the name. “We will meet many setbacks on the way to Mars. However, we can persevere.”

NASA announced that Mather had won the agency’s “Name the Rover” essay contest on Thursday. The contest invited students in kindergarten through 12th grade to submit suggestions. That’s also how the last Mars rover, Curiosity, got its name.

Mars rover perseverance
Members of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s assembly, test and launch operations team pose with the new nameplate they installed on the Perseverance Mars rover, March 4, 2020. NASA/JPL-Caltech

After the naming contest launched in August 2019, NASA received over 28,000 essays. Thousands of volunteer judges helped narrow the pool to 155 semifinalists. Then NASA chose nine finalists – other names on that list included “Ingenuity” and “Fortitude” – and opened a public poll in which anyone could vote. Though NASA officials chose the final name, they took the poll results into consideration.

“It took a lot of perseverance for us to get to where we are today,” Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said at NASA’s announcement event at the Virginia school on Thursday.

Perseverance will help NASA prepare to send humans to Mars

Engineers began assembling Perseverance two years ago at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Mars 2020 rover test drive
In a clean room at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, engineers observed the first driving test for NASA’s Mars 2020 rover on December 17, 2019. NASA/JPL-Caltech

The rover will carry a suite of cutting-edge tools: A new navigation system to make landing on the red planet less risky, a machine designed to produce oxygen from carbon dioxide, and instruments to collect data that could help scientists better predict Martian weather.

Together, all these developments could get us closer to putting human boots on Mars’ harsh surface.

In February, NASA flew the rover to Cape Canaveral, Florida to begin launch preparations.

“We’re making history right now,” NASA associate administrator Thomas Zurbuchen said at the announcement event. “It will be the first leg of the first round trip of humanity to Mars, bringing back these samples that tell us secrets about like itself.”