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Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
A nameless car-sized robot is awaiting an important mission to Mars.
This traveler will study the geology of the Red Planet and hunt for signs of ancient life.
It will help pave the way for robotic and human exploration and is part of a high-priority science mission.
But before it can do any of that, it needs a name.
And that could come from right here in New Mexico.
Three students in Albuquerque and Santa Fe are among the 155 semifinalists in the “Name the Rover” contest, picked from over 28,000 responses.
K-12 students from public, private and home schools across the nation entered the essay contest, judged on their writing and originality and significance of their name idea.
Three semifinalists were named from each state; one from grades K-4, 5-8 and 9-12.
At 7 years old, Mark Goldman, a third grader at Manzano Day School, is the youngest of the New Mexico semifinalists, with the submission “Picus.”
He is the kind of kid who works on solar system projects for fun. So the Mars rover contest was a good fit for him.
When brainstorming for his submission, Mark thought maybe Rover 360? Or perhaps Rover 2020?
Throwing these simple names out, the young space enthusiast turned to the gods for help, as so many others have done before him.
Inspired by the god of war and the planet’s namesake, he decided on “Picus,” Mars’ sacred woodpecker.
“A woodpecker drills into trees, and the rover will drill into Mars (the planet, not the god),” Mark said.
Maximilian Looft, another semifinalist from New Mexico, had a similar process, starting off with a long list of names and whittling them down.
The Santa Fe High School senior ultimately went with the acronym G.R.I.T., Geologic Retrieval Investigation and Testing.
“Geologic Retrieval, for the task of obtaining soil samples and looking for evidence of microbial life. Investigation and Testing, finding valuable knowledge that will be needed for future colonists, such as examining weather conditions and testing methods of producing oxygen,” Maximilian explained.
He thought an acronym could be a unique approach and G.R.I.T. was a good fit because it was “tough like the mission.”
He’s always had a slight interest in space, being a “Star Wars” fan and all.
The 2018 SpaceX launch of the rocket Falcon Heavy hooked him on the celestial even more, and it’s been a fascination since.
The 17-year-old is hoping to combine this interest in the cosmos with his love for writing – setting his sights on being a science-fiction writer.
Local semifinalist Josiah Fidel, an eighth grader at Bosque School, thinks the naming competition is a great way to get the community involved.
He enjoyed the challenge of coming up with a word that represented the magnitude of the Mars mission.
The 13-year-old thinks his proposal, “Promise,” does just that.
“The word ‘promise’ represents action and determination,” he said, adding that it nods to NASA’s promise to continue to explore and make new discoveries.
The next rounds of judging will eventually reduce the competition to nine finalists, who will then move to an interview phase with an expert panel, according to a news release.
Members of the public will get to vote for their favorite name online later this month, which will be a factor in the final naming selection.
Only one will win the grand prize: an invitation to see the spacecraft launch in July from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, in addition to naming the rover, the release said. The grand prize winner will be announced in March, according to NASA.
Josiah’s voice rose with excitement when talking about the possibility of being named the winner and watching the launch.
“That would be amazing to go and see a launch and get to experience that firsthand. My parents and I have watched launches live on TV, but it would be very cool to see one in real life,” he said.
Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, said in a statement that the competition is more than just about a title. It’s a way to engage the next generation in STEM.
“The chosen name will help define this rover’s unique personality among our fleet of Martian spacecraft,” she said.