If you remember the summer of 2012, you might recall the landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars. (As a hint, it was right at the end of the London Olympics.) It was a pretty big deal because this was one of the biggest and certainly the most complicated piece of equipment we’d ever landed on Mars, and because of the seemingly insane landing system where it was lowered on a cable from a rocket-powered crane. (I was at The Planetary Society’s Planetfest event for the landing, and I had a great time.)
Well, now, NASA is doing it again.
On July 17 of this year, the Mars 2020 rover will launch on its way to (obviously) Mars. This rover is another car-sized monster, which will also have to land with a sky crane. In fact, Mars 2020 is basically a copy of the Curiosity chassis with some new and better instruments installed. And they are pretty cool. This rover will have ground penetrating radar. It will have a laser spectrometer fancy enough to directly detect signs of life. (NASA rarely says they’re officially looking for life because they don’t want to raise their expectations too high.) It will test an oxygen-production experiment for future human missions. And it will have helicopter, despite the fact that the air on Mars is so thin that it’s equivalent to 30 km (100,000 feet) high on Earth. Oh, and it’ll also cache some rock samples for a future sample return mission.
But the one thing the rover doesn’t have yet is a name.
Curiosity wasn’t always Curiosity. It was originally the Mars Science Laboratory. It was named based on a public poll of names submitted by students around the country, and NASA is doing the same thing for Mars 2020. The name of the new rover will be selected based on the results* of a public poll of names submitted by students. You can read the finalists’ essays and vote in the poll at the Name the Rover Contest.
Voting is open through Monday, January 27. The finalists in the poll are:
All of these are fair names, but my vote is for Ingenuity.** And my reason is that continuing the theme is too good to pass up. As I said, Curiosity and Mars 2020 are twins—the same design with different instruments. And not only would Ingenuity be the closest name to the scientific themes of the mission, but naming the pair of rovers Curiosity and Ingenuity would have a poetic symmetry to it.
So go out and vote, and maybe your favorite name will be chosen for the next Mars rover!
* It’s not 100% certain to follow the poll results because of the risk of vote-fixing.
** Full disclosure: I am a postdoc at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. However, this post represents solely my own opinion and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of NASA or the United States Government.