Two Austin students chosen as semifinalists in contest to name the new Mars rover

Austin
2020 rover

Render of the Mars 2020 rover. (Photo courtesy NASA.gov)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Two Austin students have been named semifinalists in the Future Engineers “Name the Rover” contest. The challenge is a partnership with NASA to name the 2020 Mars rover.

Future Engineers hosts various online challenges for kindergarten through 12t- grade students. The group is sponsored through the Department of Education’s Small Business Innovation Research (SPIR) program.

The “Name the Rover” contest asked students to submit a name idea for the new rover as well as a 150-word essay explaining the meaning behind the name.

The 2020 rover will explore for signs of microbial life, collect samples and test new technology that aims to produce oxygen in the Martian atmosphere. It will be the fifth robot to land on the surface of the red planet.

The first semifinalist from Austin is Riley Rosen from the kindergarten to fourth-grade category who decided to name the rover “Enlightenment.”

“We are constantly gaining more knowledge and making more and more scientific discoveries. What is the next step? Enlightenment!” Rosen wrote in the application essay.

The second Austin semifinalist Conner Petru, a junior from Bowie High School, submitted the name “Mornar” for the rover and said in his essay that he wanted to pick a name that conveyed the mission of the rover.

Conner Petru at a robotics event. (Photo courtesy Ryan Petru)

“As I researched online, I found out that the rover’s landing site, the Jezero Crater, was named after the town of Jezero in Bosnia-Herzegovina,” explained Petru. “I also learned that the word ‘Jezero’ means ‘lake’ in Bosnian, and that this has significance to the Jezero Crater since it is believed to have once been a lake in Mars’ distant past.”

He explained that if the rover was going to be exploring this ancient lake then it had to have a name to match, thus he went with “Mornar” which means “sailor” in Bosnian.

Petru told KXAN he has a strong passion for astronomy and robotics and jumped at the chance to “leave my mark on the history of robotic space exploration.” He said someday he would like to work at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a federally funded NASA field center in California, with robots similar to the rover he hopes to name.

The winner of the “Name the Rover” contest will be invited to watch the spacecraft launch from Cape Canaveral in July. The nine finalists will be named by the end of January and a winner will be picked in March.

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