We won't have to call NASA's next Red Planet rover "Mars 2020" for much longer.
On Thursday (March 5), NASA will reveal the official name of the car-size robot, which is scheduled to launch this July and land inside Mars' 28-mile-wide (45 kilometers) Jezero Crater in February 2021. The unveiling will occur during a live event at 1:30 p.m. EST (1830 GMT), which will be followed at 3:30 p.m. EST (2030 GMT) by a news conference about the name and the rover's mission.
You can watch both of these events live here at Space.com, courtesy of NASA, or directly via the space agency.
Related: NASA's Mars 2020 rover mission in pictures
Like NASA's previous Red Planet rovers, Mars 2020 is getting its official moniker via a student naming competition. The contest, which kicked off last year, generated more than 28,000 essay submissions from K-12 students representing every U.S. state and territory, NASA officials said.
That initial pool was whittled down to 155 semifinalists, which in January were culled to nine finalists, three in each of three age categories (grades K-4, 5-8 and 9-12). These nine contenders, 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.
NASA encouraged the public to vote for their favorite of these nine through the end of last month. But the final decision was made by Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, agency officials wrote in an update on Tuesday (March 3).
Zurbuchen will attend the name-unveiling event on Thursday, as will Lori Glaze, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington; Deanne Bell, the founder and CEO of California-based organization Future Engineers, which ran the naming contest in partnership with NASA and Ohio-based Battelle Education; and the student who submitted the winning name.
Mars 2020's chief task involves hunting for signs of ancient life in Jezero Crater, which hosted a lake and river delta billions of years ago. The six-wheeled rover will also collect and store samples for future return to Earth, where scientists can analyze the pristine Mars material in great detail.
The $2.5 billion mission also features several technology demonstrations, including a small helicopter scout and an instrument that will generate oxygen from the Red Planet's thin, carbon-dioxide-dominated atmosphere.
NASA already has an active rover on the Martian surface, Curiosity, which landed inside the 96-mile-wide (154 km) Gale Crater in August 2012. Curiosity has determined that Gale hosted a potentially life-supporting lake-and-stream system for long stretches in the ancient past.
Curiosity was named in 2009 by Clara Ma, then a sixth grader in Kansas. Ma graduated from Yale University last year.
- Mars 2020: The Red Planet's next rover
- Life on Mars: Exploration & evidence
- Photos: Ancient Mars lake could have supported life
Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.
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