And then there were nine.
NASA has chosen nine finalists in the student naming contest for its next Mars rover, which currently goes by the bland Mars 2020 (a reference to its launch window, which extends from July through August of this year).
The space agency picked three submissions in each of the three age categories — grades K-4, 5-8 and 9-12.
The monikers, and the students who proposed them, are:
- Endurance, K-4, Oliver Jacobs of Virgina.
- Tenacity, K-4, Eamon Reilly of Pennsylvania.
- Promise, K-4, Amira Shanshiry of Massachusetts.
- Perseverance, 5-8, Alexander Mather of Virginia.
- Vision, 5-8, Hadley Green of Mississippi.
- Clarity, 5-8, Nora Benitez of California.
- Ingenuity, 9-12, Vaneeza Rupani of Alabama.
- Fortitude, 9-12, Anthony Yoon of Oklahoma.
- Courage, 9-12, Tori Gray of Louisiana.
Public input is one criterion NASA will use to pick the final name, and the agency is therefore encouraging folks to vote for their favorite online at go.nasa.gov/name2020. But you'll have to act relatively fast; voting closes at midnight EST (0500 GMT) on Jan. 28.
"After the poll closes, the nine student finalists will discuss their rover names with a panel including [NASA Planetary Science Division director Lori] Glaze, NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins, NASA-JPL rover driver Nick Wiltsie and Clara Ma, who earned the honor of naming the Mars rover Curiosity as a sixth-grade student in 2009," NASA officials wrote in a statement. (JPL is the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, which will lead the new rover's mission.)
"The contest will conclude in early March, when the rover's new name — and the student behind it — are announced," NASA officials added. "The grand prize winner will also receive an invitation to see the spacecraft launch in July 2020 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida."
The car-size Mars 2020 is scheduled to touch down inside the 28-mile-wide (45 kilometers) Jezero Crater in February 2021. The rover will do a variety of work on the Red Planet, including hunt for signs of ancient life, test out tech that could aid human exploration and collect and cache samples for future return to Earth.
The student naming contest is a long-standing tradition. Kids have named all of NASA's Mars rovers — Sojourner, which launched in 1996; Spirit and Opportunity, which lifted off in 2003; and Curiosity, which landed on Mars in 2012 and continues to work there today.
- Mars 2020: The Red Planet's Next Rover
- Life on Mars: Exploration & Evidence
- Photos: Ancient Mars Lake Could Have Supported Life
Mike Wall's book about the search for alien life, "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), is out now. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.