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Countdown to Mars: How NASA involved kids in its Perseverance rover mission

Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, announces the official name of the Mars rover Perseverance, at Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke, Virginia, on March 5, 2020.
Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, announces the official name of the Mars rover Perseverance, at Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke, Virginia, on March 5, 2020. (Image credit: Aubrey Gemignani/NASA)

The Mars 2020 rover Perseverance will arrive at the Red Planet this week, and NASA has several ways for kids to get involved ahead of its landing today (Feb. 18). 

Perseverance earned its official moniker last year, after NASA held a nationwide "Name the Rover" competition that drew 28,000 essay submissions from K-12 students. This initial pool was narrowed down to nine finalists, including Alex Mather, a Northern Virginia seventh-grader, who proposed the winning name of the rover. 

NASA also chose the name Ingenuity for its Mars helicopter from the list of finalists. High schooler Vaneeza Rupani of Alabama submitted the name Ingenuity, which is fitting for the solar-powered helicopter, given it is the first robotic aircraft designed to fly on another planet. When the Mars 2020 mission launched on July 30, 2020, both Mather and Rupani were invited to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida to watch the rocket carrying Perseverance and Ingenuity lift off into space. 

You can watch the Mars landing live here and on Space.com's homepage, courtesy of NASA, beginning at 2:15 p.m. EST (1915 GMT). The landing is expected at 3:55 p.m. EST (2055 GMT). 

Related: How to watch NASA's Perseverance rover land on Mars
Perseverance rover's Mars landing: Everything you need to know 

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Leading up to Perseverance's landing, students from around the world have been following the rover's mission through guided educational activities provided by NASA's "Mission to Mars" student challenge. The different activities throughout the challenge are designed to lead K-12 students in designing and building their own mission to Mars.

The student challenge includes weekly lesson plans and livestream Q&A sessions with Mars 2020 mission experts. The student challenge also features various science experiments and DIY project tutorials, ranging from how to make a crater using household baking ingredients, to building a rubber-band-powered rover or a paper-cup spacecraft and paperclip zipline landing. The challenge culminates today (Feb. 18), when students can land their Mars missions alongside NASA's Perseverance rover. There is still time to register for the Mission to Mars Student Challenge since the activities can be completed in any order. 

Students Alex Mather and Vaneeza Rupani were finalists in NASA's Name the Rover essay competition and were invited to watch the Mars 2020 launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on July 30, 2020.

Students Alex Mather and Vaneeza Rupani were finalists in NASA's Name the Rover essay competition and were invited to watch the Mars 2020 launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on July 30, 2020. (Image credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett)

In addition to NASA's student challenge, the space agency released an interactive flipbook with information about the Mars 2020 mission and how the Perseverance rover will land on the surface of the Red Planet. The flipbook also includes a downloadable mission poster, patch and sticker to celebrate NASA's newest rover at home. 

Other fun ways to get involved in the Perseverance landing include listening to sounds of Mars and taking a photo with one of NASA's Perseverance-themed backdrops. NASA's "sounds of Mars" playlist features audio from familiar things on Earth, like chirping birds, ocean waves and a bicycle bell, and how different those sounds would be on the Red Planet. 

Kids can test their hand at operating a rover on Mars in an online game called "Explore Mars." The goal of the game is to gather mission points by sending a sequence of commands to the Mars rover, which include navigating the Martian surface and collecting data from target sites. The game simulates the sample caching Perseverance will have to do when it lands in Mars' 28-mile-wide (45 kilometers) Jezero Crater

Live events on landing day

NASA will host a series of live stream events today, starting with a landing day live stream for all students at 12:30 p.m. EST (1730 GMT). 

Later in the day, the Perseverance rover landing will be broadcasted live on NASA Television and the agency's website beginning at 2:15 p.m. EST (1915 GMT). The spacecraft is expected to touch down on Mars at 3:55 p.m. EST (2055 GMT). A post-landing live stream will be held at 5:30 p.m. EST (2230 GMT). You can find NASA's full TV schedule online

Students who watch the landing online can share their landing day experience by taking a video and posting it on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook using the hashtag #CountdownToMars.

Visit Space.com today for complete coverage of the Perseverance Mars rover's landing on the Red Planet.

Follow Samantha Mathewson @Sam_Ashley13. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook. 

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Samantha Mathewson joined Space.com as an intern in the summer of 2016. She received a B.A. in Journalism and Environmental Science at the University of New Haven, in Connecticut. Previously, her work has been published in Nature World News. When not writing or reading about science, Samantha enjoys traveling to new places and taking photos! You can follow her on Twitter @Sam_Ashley13.