We now know what to call the helicopter that will become the first craft to ply the skies of an alien world.
The little chopper that will launch to the Red Planet this summer with NASA's Mars 2020 rover Perseverance finally has a name: Ingenuity, agency officials announced today (April 29).
The moniker was submitted by Alabama 11th grader Vaneeza Rupani, as part of NASA's "Name the Rover" contest for Mars 2020. "Perseverance" won that competition, of course, but agency officials dipped back into the submission pool to hang a name on the solar-powered Mars helicopter. (Its name was just "Mars Helicopter" until today.)
Find out how Alabama 11th grader Vanessa Rupani came up with the Mars helicopter's name "Ingenuity" in this NASA Q & A.
"Ingenuity encapsulates the values that our helicopter tech demo will showcase for everyone when it takes off next year as the first aircraft on another planet's surface," NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who selected the name, said in a statement.
"It took a lot of hard and ingenious work to get the helicopter ready and then placed on the rover, and there's a lot more going to be required," Bridenstine added. "I was happy we had another great name from the naming contest finalists from which I was able to select something so representative of this exciting part of our next mission to Mars."
Perseverance is set to lift off this summer, with Ingenuity attached to its belly, during a three-week window that opens on July 17. The rover will touch down inside the Red Planet's Jezero Crater in February 2021 on a mission whose main tasks involve hunting for signs of ancient Mars life and collecting and caching samples for future return to Earth.
As Bridenstine mentioned, Ingenuity is a NASA tech demo; it carries no science instruments. After deploying from Perseverance on the Martian surface, the 4-lb. (1.8 kilograms) helicopter will make a series of short flights over a month-long test campaign. Ingenuity's success could pave the way for extensive aerial exploration of Mars by future rotorcraft, NASA officials have said.
The Mars 2020 naming contest kicked off last year and drew 28,000 essay submissions from K-12 students from every U.S. state and territory. This initial pool was whittled down to 155 semifinalists, which were further culled to nine finalists in January. NASA announced in early March that Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the agency's Science Mission Directorate, had picked Perseverance — a name submitted by Virginia seventh grader Alexander Mather — from this final group for the rover.
But Rupani's essay stood out as well, NASA officials said.
"The ingenuity and brilliance of people working hard to overcome the challenges of interplanetary travel are what allow us all to experience the wonders of space exploration," Rupani, who attends Tuscaloosa County High School in Northport, Alabama, wrote in her essay submission. "Ingenuity is what allows people to accomplish amazing things, and it allows us to expand our horizons to the edges of the universe."
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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.