A seventh grader named NASA’s newest Mars rover

Perseverance is scheduled to land in a dry river delta in February 2021

The next NASA Mars rover now has a name, Perseverance. It took its first drive in a clean room at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. The rover is set to launch to the Red Planet in July.

JPL-Caltech/NASA

Meet Perseverance. It’s NASA’s next ambassador to the Red Planet.

The Mars rover’s new name was announced March 5. NASA held a six-month “Name the Rover” competition. It drew more than 28,000 entries from students in kindergarten through high school. Students were asked to make their name suggestions in essays.

The winning entry came from 7th grader Alex Mather. He became interested in becoming a NASA engineer after he attended the space agency’s Space Camp at age 11.  

Alex read from his winning essay at the official naming event, which was broadcast from Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke, Va. “We are a species of explorers, and we will meet many setbacks on the way to Mars,” he said. “However, we can persevere.”

Mather’s prize? An invitation for him and his family to witness the rover’s launch in July from Cape Canaveral, Fla.

Perseverance will search for signs of past life in an ancient river delta in Jezero Crater. That crater is shown in this image from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.ASU, JPL-Caltech/NASA

A team of 4,700 volunteer judges whittled the submitted entries down to 155. NASA then selected the winner. Other finalists included Clarity, Courage, Endurance, Fortitude, Ingenuity, Promise, Tenacity and Vision. (Full disclosure: This reporter was one of the volunteer judges in the contest.)

The six-wheeled vehicle was formerly known simply as “Mars 2020.” It is slated to land in a dry river delta in Mars’ Jezero Crater in February 2021.

The rover will then undertake a two-year mission. During that, Perseverance will seek signs of ancient life in the crater. The rover also will collect and store Martian dirt and rock. Another mission to Mars in the future can then bring the samples back to Earth.

Lisa Grossman is the astronomy writer. She has a degree in astronomy from Cornell University and a graduate certificate in science writing from University of California, Santa Cruz. She lives near Boston.