Local student in the running to name the NASA’s Mars rover

Kate Hurford’s submission chosen from 28,000 entries

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – NASA’s Mars 2020 rover is one step closer to having its own name after 155 students across the U.S. were chosen as semifinalists in the “Name the Rover” essay contest. Just one will be selected to win the grand prize -- the exciting honor of naming the rover and an invitation to see the spacecraft launch in July 2020 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

A local K-4 student, Kate Hurford, was chosen to be one of 155 semifinalists from 28,000 submissions.

“I almost screamed,” said Hurford when she found out she made the first cut.

Kate suggests the name Prospector for NASA’s Mars 2020 rover.

“Prospector,” a stellar name for a solar system explorer. The Mars rover will explore Mars for any sign of life and will help find ways to supports human life on Mars. “Prospect” means the future and hope. People worldwide have put their hopes in this rover – to find life, water and a way to make oxygen so we can further explore the planet. The rover and the gold rush prospectors had similar hopes and purposes – to find a cache of treasure. A cache of gold for one, a cache of rocks to be studied for another, both holding the hope of finding riches and unlocking mysteries and adventures. As the prospectors marched across mountains and frozen tundra, our Mars rover will face a difficult journey with many unknowns. Yet, prospectors have hearty souls and our rover “Prospector” will help us find riches even more prized than gold.

Kate's essay submission

“Our teacher told us that we could do it if we wanted to and then I went home and I researched what the rover would be doing and then I thought of a Prospector,” said Hurford.

The currently unnamed rover is a robotic scientist weighing more than 2,300 pounds (1,000 kilograms). It will search for signs of past microbial life, characterize the planet’s climate and geology, collect samples for future return to Earth and pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet.

"This rover is the first leg of a round-trip mission to Mars that will advance understanding in key science fields like astrobiology," said Lori Glaze, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division. "This contest is a cool way to engage the next generation and encourage careers in all STEM fields. The chosen name will help define this rover's unique personality among our fleet of Martian spacecraft."

With more than 28,000 essay submissions received from K-12 students, NASA recruited volunteer contest judges from every U.S. state and territory. Nearly 4,700 eligible judge volunteers were selected from a diverse pool of educators, professionals, and space enthusiasts and were instrumental in selecting the semifinalists.

“As her teacher I think going above and beyond is something that I’m always honored when my students do so I’ll be very proud,” said Karla Link, a 4th grade Math and science teacher at Palm Valley Elementary School.

The next phases of judging will reduce the competition to nine finalists, and the public will have an opportunity to vote for their favorite name online in late January. The results of the poll will be a consideration in the final naming selection.

The nine finalists will talk with a panel of experts, including Glaze, NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins, NASA JPL rover driver Nick Wiltsie and Clara Ma, who proposed the name for the Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity, as a sixth-grade student in 2009. The grand prize winner will be announced in early March 2020.

For complete contest and prize details, including a full listing of the 155 state/territory semifinalists, visit futureengineers.org/nametherover

The naming contest partnership is part of a Space Act Agreement in educational and public outreach efforts between NASA, Battelle of Columbus, Ohio, and Future Engineers of Burbank, California.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, manages rover development for the agency. The Launch Services Program at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida is responsible for launch management.

Mars 2020 is part of a larger program that includes missions to the Moon as a way to prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet. Charged with returning astronauts to the Moon by 2024, NASA will establish a sustained human presence on and around the Moon by 2028 through NASA's Artemis lunar exploration plans.

For more information about the mission, go to mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/

For more about NASA’s Moon to Mars plans, visit nasa.gov/topics/moon-to-mars

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